Climate hawks breathe a sigh of relief after more than a decade of fighting for climate legislation

In a 50-50 Senate and more than a decade later, Markey and the rest of his Democratic colleagues voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act — by far the largest climate investment in US history. The bill, which has yet to pass the House, includes more than $370 billion in tax breaks and other funding to boost clean energy and reduce Earth’s emissions.

“I don’t know if it’s caught up with me at all,” the New Mexico Democrat told CNN. “We thought we would get this done in 2009, and of course it took another 12 years. I think it will be a transformation.”

The bill’s approval comes not a moment too soon. The urgency to reverse the dangerous trajectory of the climate crisis has never been greater. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not been this high in over 4 million years, scientists reported in Juneand human greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

Scientists have been warning for decades that the climate crisis is leading to extreme heat, intense drought and stronger storms, and the effects of burning fossil fuels are being felt in every corner of the country.

In recent weeks, the United States has faced catastrophic wildfires in the West, a series of deadly flash floods in the Midwest and California, and the extension of the West’s worst drought in 12 centuries. In 2021 alone, the US spent more than $145 billion on extreme weather.

It was through that lens that this vote was personal to many senators, some of whom told CNN they voted with the future of their children and grandchildren in the back of their minds.

“This is about their lives and whether they will have a planet to grow up in,” Tom Carper, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told CNN.

The Delaware Democrat added, “Do they have a future? Do their children have a future? It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

‘The planet itself is at stake’

Climate victory was not guaranteed.

Since negotiations began more than a year ago, lawmakers and staffers have seen other versions of this bill die dramatically. The final, slimline version was revived during recent secret negotiations between Senate Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin — the Democrats’ main swing vote.

“Each near-death experience felt just as scary as the last,” said Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz. “I’ve never had so many ups and downs with a single piece of legislation. It had an unusual number of twists and turns, but also – the planet itself is at stake.”

When Manchin complained about the bill’s impact on inflation and energy security in July, he was also heard by other Democrats. Carper told CNN that he approached the West Virginian on the Senate floor with a list of recent climate disasters and extreme weather, urging him to take action.
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“I’d say, ‘I need you to help my state,'” Carper said. “‘My state is the lowest state in America; my state is sinking.'”

Carper told Manchin that while Democrats were determined to help West Virginia miners transition to a clean energy economy, Manchin’s vote was also needed to help states like Delaware and Louisiana, where the coastlines are being swallowed up by the ocean.

Over the course of a few weeks, Democrats watched as Manchin went from “no” to become the face of the bill and championed it in the press.

“Everyone has heard him say that if he can explain it, he can vote for it,” Schatz said. “He finally came up with a bill that he’s proud of, and then it’s like turning on a light switch. He’s not being dragged along kicking and screaming; he’s dragging everyone along and he’s leading the messages on this bill.”

On Thursday night, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced that she would also support the bill, giving the party the 50 votes it needed.

“The impact of this finally hit me for the first time,” Minnesota Senator Tina Smith told CNN on Thursday. “Tears welled up in my eyes; I was so happy.”

Just a few weeks earlier, Smith said she “thought the door was pretty much closed. When I realized there was an agreement, I literally couldn’t believe it.”

A big win for the midterms

Senate climate hawks told CNN their work isn’t done yet, but which path they take next depends on the outcome of the November midterm elections and whether the party can maintain its fragile congressional majorities.

Most immediately, Democrats will work on an environmental reform bill that Schumer and Manchin agreed to this fall as part of their bigger deal, lawmakers told CNN. Manchin wanted a two-year maximum timeline for drilling permit revisions and an accelerated process for certain large, interstate electricity transmission projects.
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But it would also promote a controversial natural pipeline project in Virginia and West Virginia, which has long been a priority for Manchin. That measure would require Republican votes to pass the 60-vote threshold, which could complicate matters.

“We always knew there would be some stinkers,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told CNN about the fossil fuel measures. Still, Whitehouse admitted, “we’ll want some of that,” such as the provisions to speed up permitting electric transmission.

Climate hawks also plan to put more pressure on the Biden administration to roll out tough regulations and executive measures, and some are considering an attempt to revive the measures that killed Manchin last year, such as a clean-up program. electricity that would lead to even greater cuts in fossil fuel emissions.

For now, they’re relieved to finally have a major climate victory.

“I think this bill will show the power of action,” Smith said. “I don’t think this is the last thing we do, but it will break the barrier of passivity.”

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