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"wind walkers" by Sky Noir is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Climate Change

How The Southern US Benefits From Federal Funding For Climate Action

It’s interesting to look at the confluence of southern politicians’ climate denial discourse and their hands outreached for climate cash.

Many southern US voters simply don’t realize how much their elected leaders are taking advantage of federal funding for clean energy initiatives. It’s important to make the wealth of monies being funneled into southern US states transparent. In that way, voters in the important upcoming midterm elections can better understand how their communities benefit from climate crisis initiatives — even as their elected officials decry Democratic spending.

Democrats rallied and passed the most influential climate change legislation ever this year with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). One of its tenets directs billions of dollars to create a US supply chain for electric vehicles (EVs). As the New York Times notes, Republicans and the states they represent are poised to cash in on much of the political and economic windfall. Although not a single Republican members of Congress endorsed the IRA and, in fact, continue to describe the Act as wasteful spending, southern US states, as example, are benefiting politically from the jobs and money that EV and battery factories bring to their districts.

Indeed, states that voted for former President Trump will receive most of the grants to promote battery and raw material production in the US.

A cleantech reality was unthinkable just a few decades ago. For many people, it still seems more like science fiction than fact, infusing in those questioning clean energy’s importance a hesitancy to buy in. However, the IRA is positioned to put the country on course to build the clean energy products need to support long term deployment and jobs’ goals — and the benefits are quite evident already in the southern US.

The Continual Allure of Fossil Fuel Rhetoric

Republicans have been drinking the climate crisis denial kool-aid for a long, long time, of course. At the beck and call of the fossil fuel industry, they spit out all kinds of biased research when it comes with a solid infusion of campaign financing. The American Petroleum Institute and other fossil fuel industry organizations have waged a vast disinformation campaign for decades — they’ve constructed a most polished, precise, and enduring climate crisis counter narrative.

The result is that the world’s 5 largest publicly owned oil and gas companies have funded climate crisis denial at about $200 million each year. They clearly knew and did everything they could to dissuade southern US politicians and others from taking climate action as early as 1968. “If the earth’s temperature increases significantly,” their research report warned, “a number of events might be expected to occur, including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans, and an increase in photosynthesis.”

Moreover, we have to remember that the 4 years of the Trump administration discounted science, and federal agencies relied on gut instincts rather than sensible, pragmatic governing. The existential crisis of climate change that presses on us was subsumed by a leader who was concerned strictly with self-image. Ideology replaced reason under the Trump administration. So much time and energy was lost by subterfuge.

Many clean energy advocates are not giving into southern US clean energy double talk. In fact, an editorial written on the Electrify the South blog by program manager Dory Larsen argues that electrifying transportation is a pro-American solution. Such a perspective frames the EV transition as a patriotic necessity to protect the integrity of the US. It’s only one of many examples of how the southern US is reaping the benefits of Democratic-led federal climate funding.

The gusts of change could be baffling to you unless you remember that power is politics — for energy production and legislative seat preservation.

Places in the Southern US Where Climate Denial & Action Converge

The Biden administration on Wednesday awarded $2.8 billion in grants to boost domestic manufacturing of batteries for EVs in 12 states — half of which are located in the southern US. The federal grants are funded by last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure law and are separate from an executive order Biden issued last spring invoking the Defense Production Act to boost production of lithium and other critical minerals used to power EVs. Eight of the 12 states selected for funding supported Donald Trump in 2020. “I was really surprised to find out there were so many socialists in the Republican caucus,″ President Biden joked, repeating a frequent GOP talking point about the law.

The incongruity between southern US policies and governing is quite evident in West Virginia, a state where the coal industry has provided jobs for generations but has also decimated mountainsides, rivers, and arable land. Today, West Virginia wind power adds significantly to the state’s clean energy portfolio, as the once powerful coal industry is on the decline.

In August, Tritium, the Australian manufacturer of DC fast charging equipment, announced the opening of its Tennessee factory, which will have 6 production lines and employ 500 people. The facility will be able to manufacture up to 30,000 DC fast chargers a year when it reaches full production.

BMW has announced plans to upgrade a factory to produce EVs and to build a new plant in South Carolina to assemble batteries. The investment is valued at $1.7 billion in total.

Tesla, Inc. is moving forward with plans to build a lithium refinery on the Texas Gulf Coast in a bid to gain more control over the supply chain for EV batteries. CEO Elon Musk confirmed on a Q3 conference call on progress developing the company’s new 4680 battery cell technology in Texas, too.

An Alabama city council has voted to allow its municipal utility to buy power from a solar plant under construction. The agreement with Toyota Tsusho, which is part of the Toyota group, was made possible in 2020 when the city council approved a power supply flexibility agreement that allowed Huntsville Utilities to purchase up to 5% of its electricity from another source other than the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Final Thoughts about Southern US Climate Initiatives

Think of how much healthier our world would be if political conservatives devoted themselves to enter negotiations over climate change policies and to attempts to streamline new energies to make them more market oriented — both of which still fall within the conservative credo.

Such consensus building would require business models that work in harmony with society and the environment rather than to be absorbed by hollow mitigation measures that do little more than continue the same financial growth trajectories and assumptions. Regardless of the direction that the political winds blow, the planet continues on its dangerous path of warming as humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an alarming rate. With catastrophic impacts from climate change looming, the world’s governments must implement massive reductions of warming emissions — and the southern US must acknowledge its role and its acceptance of federal climate funding.

 
 
 
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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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