It’s been some time since Congress spoke as clearly to who we are as a nation, and the kind of future we aspire to create, as with the passage of the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act that President Biden plans to sign into law this week.
With the strongest federal climate action ever at its core, the bill also will cut health care costs, especially for seniors and low-income families. It will create jobs, drive innovation and make the country more secure. It will also reduce deficit spending by ensuring that profitable corporations pay their fair share.
If ever a bill cried out for bipartisan support, this is it.
And yet, when the House and Senate passed the bill last week, not a single Republican voted for it. Not one, in either house.
The public is going to wonder why. After all, 61 percent wanted Congress to act on climate.
Beyond partisanship, the GOP resistance speaks volumes about Big Oil’s outsized influence.
Flush with cash — a windfall $77 billion in second-quarter profits — the oil and gas industry has spent $1.8 billion in campaign contributions and lobbying efforts over the past decade, trying to defeat climate action and the politicians that support it. Contributions to Republicans out-pace those to Democrats four to one.
While Republicans fail to act on climate, the country pays the price.
Nearly eight in 10 Americans — 78 percent — have already suffered from the kind of drought that’s baking the West; the sort of catastrophic flooding that killed dozens of people in Kentucky; wildfires that have torched enough land this year to cover the state of New Jersey; storms, heat waves and other climate-related disasters that, last year alone, killed 725 people nationwide and did $153 billion in damage.
The perils will mount, the science makes clear, unless we cut climate pollution in half by 2030 and stop adding it to the atmosphere altogether by 2050.
This bill provides more than $360 billion in strategic investment, over 10 years, to help the country achieve those goals.
These are powerful incentives to help us get more clean power from the wind and sun; tax credits to make electric cars, new and used, more affordable for low-income and middle-income drivers; as well as rebates and other incentives to cut the cost of installing home heat pumps and rooftop solar panels.
The bill will add hundreds of thousands of jobs, in red states and blue, to a clean energy sector that already employs 3.2 million workers nationwide. These jobs are growing in every state — with some of the strongest gains in states with at least one Republican senator. This bill will spur even more growth, positioning our workers and businesses for success in a global clean energy market worth more than $920 billion a year — and growing.
It will make the country more secure, by helping to break our dependence on the fossil fuels that fund belligerent petro states like Russia.
It will help the United States meet its responsibility, as the world’s largest cumulative emitter of carbon pollution over time, to cut those emissions. That’s critical, and is coupled with our obligation to increase support for vulnerable countries and communities on the front lines of climate hazard and harm worldwide.
Yes, the bill is going to fight inflation, by reducing the deficit; driving down the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and health care for low-income people; reducing household electricity bills 8 percent or so; and curbing our reliance on fossil fuels — the single largest driver of inflation today.
Not surprisingly, the public likes these measures, too. Two-thirds, for example, including 54 percent of Republicans, support incentives to lower the costs of wind and solar power.
And people really like the way the bill pays for itself: 61 percent, including 53 percent of Republicans, support a 15-percent minimum tax on businesses with $1 billion or more a year in profits; and 71 percent, including 68 percent of Republicans, want the government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs to lower costs for seniors on Medicare. The bill does both.
This is not the climate bill we would have written. It includes provisions that support fossil fuels in ways that conflict with our climate aims and perpetuate inequities that inflict disproportionate hazard and harm on low-income communities and people of color. There’s no place for such measures when the goal must be to break our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce unjust impacts on overburdened communities and strengthen, not weaken, the commonsense safeguards our families depend on to prosper and thrive.
For far too long, though, Congress has failed to confront the climate crisis, as if the existential environmental crisis of our time didn’t quite rise to the level of national attention. This week, that changes, with a bill ready to be signed into law that marks, not the end, but the beginning of the climate progress we need.
As we move forward, protecting the environment and public health shouldn’t divide us by party. It must unite us, as a nation.
Manish Bapna is president and CEO of the NRDC Action Fund, an affiliate of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).
This piece has been updated.