Pittsburgh Business Times: Green panel: New ‘carrots’ approach for environmental measures a major opportunity for Western Pennsylvania

Two years after it was passed into law, the federal Inflation Reduction Act and companion legislation continue to generate plenty of discussion over their potential as well as questioning as to how best to make use of them.

At a PNC Brunch & Learn and Networking Event by the Green Voice held at the Tower at PNC, a collection of executives and public officials explored the prospects for the region to come from the federal funding jolt of the $891 billion IRA, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, totaling $1.2 trillion nationally over 10 years and the $53 billion CHIPS and Science Act.

In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Grant Ervin, director of environmental, social, governance and innovation at S&B USA Construction, the panelists expect great opportunity to come for the region as well as organizational challenges in how best to pursue it.

Mike Evans, now a partner for K&L Gates, working in its Washington, D.C. office, previously served as deputy staff director for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, when the IRA was passed, pointed out the basic distinctions of the bill over past thinking, which sought to emphasize taxes and other “sticks” to better lead more sustainable societal changes.

“The big shift in thinking was let’s try carrots. That was a fundamental change,” said Evans, emphasizing the public investment available through the program. “It’s real. The money is on the table.”

He acknowledged there’s been some reluctance or skittishness by some to pursue funding through the act and he sees a need “for there to be some first movers so people gain some confidence.”

Costa Samaras, the director of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation and a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, also spoke of the legislation with some level of direct experience after serving in the administration of President Joe Biden in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

He expects western Pennsylvania is well positioned to benefit from such legislation and noted the many historic firsts of the region in terms of energy.

“Pittsburgh has got a huge history of energy innovation,” he said.

That includes the first oil well in Titusville, to the north, the first natural gas well in Murrysville, the first oil refinery downtown along with innovative firsts in coal and solar.

He expects the public investments from the IRA and other federal legislation to have the potential to “supercharge a clean energy economy here in the region and around the country.”

How that potential is realized in the Pittsburgh area is still being worked out, whether by local government or private companies.

Brittany Prischak, director of department of sustainability for Allegheny County, detailed how Allegheny County is pursuing a Climate Action Plan as well as working with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission to pursue joint funding for projects.

Allegheny County is also considering a guaranteed energy savings agreement, through which an energy audit would demonstrate areas for county government to cut energy use and cost and then help to finance various improvements over what’s typically a 20-year plan.

Samaras noted how much Pittsburgh has changed in terms of pursuing green improvements.

“Twenty years ago, green buildings were exotic,” he said. “Now, they’re just commonplace.”

He added that “no place in the country is better poised than the 10-county region” to benefit for what he hoped would some day be a green new deal to follow through on a green and clean energy transportation.

Laura Ainsman Sohinki, a senior director for government affairs for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, added the region is drawing such interest now.

She noted one program she’s working on for a company looking to add in the range of 1,200 jobs, a labor demand to come with challenges of its own.

“We have a historic infrastructure that these large companies come in and get super excited about,” she said.

S. Kumar Nandan, vice president, Global Tax at PPG Industries, said his company is already capitalizing on the IRA in buying up tax credits through the program.

“The IRA was a game changer in terms of tax credits,” he said. “We’re able to find sustainable projects and reduce our tax liability at the same time.”

View the full article at bizjournals.com.