Well! What happened?? Two weeks ago, I railed against Sen. Joe Manchin in this newsletter for blocking historic climate legislation. And now–he’s changed his mind?! Late this week, word came down that Sen. Chuck Schumer and Manchin had reached an agreement, and suddenly, so much seems possible again.
The “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” is a new version of Build Back Better–except with a very different name, obviously, one that seems meant to give Manchin cover for rejecting the last bill due to his ostensible worries about inflation. The new bill is a compromise, but $369 billion worth of crucial climate-related programs remain. Climate movement people are cautiously thrilled.
The bill includes:
- prescription drug cost reductions
- extension of health care subsidies
- tax reform that enforces fair taxes on huge corporations and closes loopholes for the very wealthy
- consumer-facing incentives like rebates on electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pumps, and more
- tax incentives to promote clean energy industry
- money to address environmental injustices
- penalties for methane emissions
- and of course, a few juicy morsels for the fossil fuel industry
Is it a big deal? YES! Schumer remarked that
“By a wide margin, this legislation will be the greatest pro-climate legislation that has ever been passed by Congress
.” And climate experts are agreeing (also noting that the bar is rather low). If this bill passes and gets signed, the US will be back in the game to make good on its pledges to reduce emissions.
Dr. Leah Stokes (see video below), a climate policy specialist who has been involved in White House climate policy, notes that the initiatives in this bill should get us to 40% reductions in emissions compared to 2005 by 2030, about 80% of the way toward Pres. Biden’s pledge. She also notes that the incentives for consumers could save each of us $1800 a year in energy costs
. If you’re ready to start thinking about solar panels, heat pumps, an EV: go back to my last newsletter
for a great resource to help you plan!
What happened that caused this whiplash shift in Manchin’s position? Well, one possibility, as Dr. Stokes suggests, is the blowback after Manchin’s infuriating “never mind” two weeks ago. He may have realized, as Stokes put it, that “he didn’t want to have his legacy be one of climate destruction.”
Another possibility is a remarkable push from young White House staffers
to urge Schumer back into negotiations. The push involved a letter and a sit-in in Schumer’s office, resulting in some arrests. This article by Andrew Marantz in The New Yorker
explains just how unusual it was for staffers to engage in this kind of activism inside the halls of power.
Ultimately, Manchin may have just figured out that the climate policies in this bill just make economic sense and that the energy transition is happening anyway. The bill will help turbo charge developing clean-energy industries, create millions of jobs, and enhance energy security–causes that tend to please more conservative ears. As one policy expert put it
: “Ultimately, the way forward is to reorient climate towards jobs and security.” (I think he means “climate rhetoric.”)
As for those juicy morsels for the fossil fuel industry, it’s possible they may not amount to much in the end. They involve a requirement for federal lease sales, but the provisions of the bill are meant to reduce demand for fossil fuels by shifting the economy toward clean energy. If that happens, it won’t make financial sense for fossil fuel companies to invest in new development. Let’s hope that’s the case.
Will it pass?
Everyone’s holding their breath. We’ve had our hopes raised and dashed before. Apparently, Sen. Kyrsten Sinnema is balking a little. If you live in Arizona, would you mind calling up Sen. Sinnema’s office
and urging her to get on board?
Meanwhile, here’s a 15-minute video interview with Dr. Leah Stokes, giving a summary of the bill’s provisions, and with Saul Levin, one of the ringleaders of the staffer rebellion.