The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is an important and long needed step in mitigating worsening effects of climate change. This attempts to curb inflationary pressure through easing consumer burdens and stimulating effective demand (consumers), while pulling back demand of suppliers (corporations). The purpose of this short response is to highlight what the IRA could do for rural areas. Paying for this bill, based on increased tax and accountability for corporate tax avoidance, is truly the least we can do. There are significant limitations and legitimate criticisms of the gutting of social safety net provisions (that ought to be accounted for by Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley), though I will focus on how this climate funding and healthcare benefits can be utilized in the future at the state and local level.
Over $360 billion will be invested in climate change mitigation, including investment in electric utilities, broadband, wind, solar and other renewable energies. The IRA also contains significant tax deductions for those who may be able to afford electric vehicles and appliances, and deductions for small businesses to ‘green’ their property and capital inputs. Investment in public works can build on the American Rescue Act in future funding for a Civilian Conservation Corps (a 21st century CCC modeled on the New Deal) to revitalize our natural capital in rural Oregon. This can mean long-term employment and modernized job training, increased effective consumer demand, union labor, and the attraction of business investment in rural areas.
Investment in mitigating pollutants in Klamath Lake would be worth the cost, allowing both updates to agricultural and zoning practice, overtime reducing our contamination footprint. This is also an opportunity to work more closely with the Klamath Tribes, using the mediating influence of past federal and state officials to develop plans for fish, wildlife and economic impacts. Grants from the IRA focused on wind, solar and renewable energies can build upon important solar projects being done in Southern Oregon. Over $20 billion is put aside for rural development, climate and wildfire mitigation.
Klamath, Jackson, Clackamas, Lake and Douglas county are primed for an evolution in sustainable practices. In providing the funds for stabilizing farm production and enabling farmers to modernize practices, the IRA also provides assistance to those who experienced discrimination historically. Agriculture, natural resources, and residential sources can contract with community colleges, high school graduates and union apprenticeships to train and put to work rural Oregon in building solar and wind energies that can power homes, schools, hospitals and farms.
The IRA significantly increases access to healthcare coverage, though was limited from an original framework (and certainly less than a universal healthcare program). While costs have increased in recent years, wages and pensions have not. An important step included in IRA is enabling Medicare, the state, to negotiate prices for the market; not allowing businesses to raise prices without regard to market effects. The bill highlights the unique needs rural areas have: insulin, mid-life care and vaccines will be capped at $35; seniors annual out of pocket pay for prescription drugs will be capped at $2,000, and families and individuals buying insurance via the Affordable Care Act will keep average monthly premiums low. If Oregon passes the HOPE Amendment in November, rural Oregonians can move toward more comprehensive and equitable healthcare access.
What was left out of the original Build Back Better bill is worth noting. Policies that would have helped reshape our social safety net and lift up the working class – from continued $300 monthly child tax credits, public community college, the PRO Act, pre-k for all, free childcare, and an increased minimum wage (few Oregon House members have pushed for a statewide $17 minimum overtime). The IRA, nonetheless, is a step toward the kind of investment rural America and rural Oregon needs for a sustainable and thriving future.