A year ago this month, the Biden Administration passed the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s a historic piece of legislation that promised Utah billions of dollars for good jobs and clean energy efforts.
We join others across the country who are using the anniversary of the IRA as an opportunity to reflect and report on its progress.
As the Director of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter and the District Representative of Operating Engineers Local 3, we represent two groups of stakeholders who benefit from the funding’s ambitious goals: workers and the environment. Despite what sometimes seems like opposing agendas, we’ve spent the last year working strategically, both independently and in coalition, as United Today, Stronger Tomorrow - Utah (UTST-UT), to win the equitable implementation of IRA-funded programs and policies with only one stakeholder in mind — Utahns.
And as progress reports go, this one is pretty good. It is inarguable that the IRA has charted the path to improve the lives of millions of residents of this great state.
To date, federal funds have brought more than $24 million to Utah’s communities. These dollars have gone to critically important projects like $1.28 million to the Utah Division of Environmental Quality and Salt Lake County for Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring; $3.91 million to the Navajo Nation through the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization program; and $10 million for landscape and habitat restoration in the Upper Bear River.
Thanks to the IRA, more than 377,000 Utahns with Medicare will benefit from a $2,000 yearly cap on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, free vaccines and a $35 monthly cap per insulin prescription — an incredibly important benefit to those of us with loved ones living with diabetes.
But the IRA can do so much more; and whether it does or not depends on us. Many concerns we shared a year ago remain. Mainly that the IRA’s ambitions, like those of some decision makers here at home and in Washington, D.C., will be undermined if we don’t remain pragmatic, committed to equitable implementation and resistant to the temptation of politicizing its successes and its failures.
For those of us who see the forest for the trees — including allies on both sides of the aisle — we must continue to do so. If the promise of the IRA isn’t realized, we risk losing a decade of deep economic investment — potentially more than a billion dollars — that can spur good job growth while reducing emissions.
Utahn’s deserve the opportunity to seize what, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, stands to be 14,000 new jobs by 2030. Imagine the disenchantment of our fellow Utahns if we let that moment pass and miss out on jobs that will be protected by the IRA’s incentives for paying prevailing wages and the use of registered apprenticeship programs.
The stakes are real, and they’re imminent. Two of the largest IRA programs — Home Energy Rebates and Solar for All — will come online in the coming months. UTST-UT will encourage all Utahns to demand access to the full portfolio of benefits these programs provide — like money going directly into pockets to pay for home energy efficiency upgrades and free solar installation on more than 60,000 low and middle income homes. Both programs will reduce energy costs for the average Utah household and expand the number of high quality jobs in our energy industry.
Utahns are ready for a fully, equitably implemented IRA, from our trained local workforce to our business communities committed to new, clean energy production. We see what’s been accomplished over these past 12 months, but now we have our eyes on the future. And we know that it depends on fully realizing all of the promises of the IRA, not just the easily achievable or politically expedient ones. That’s going to require every Utahn to raise their voice and hold decision-makers accountable to optimize this opportunity. Because when the stakes are this high, no one is an unlikely ally. We’re all people that call Utah home.
Brandon Dew is the District Representative of Operating Engineers Local 3. He lives in Riverton.
Carly Ferro is the Director of Sierra Club Utah Chapter and lives in Salt Lake City.
Both authors are members of the United Today, Stronger Tomorrow - Utah Steering Committee.