Does the Climate Bill Throw Environmental Justice Under the Bus?

Covering Climate NowThis story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration cofounded by Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation strengthening coverage of the climate story.

  1. Is the new climate bill as big a deal as they say?

    Yes.

  2. Is it big enough to save us?

    No, not by itself.

  3. Does it throw environmental justice under the bus?

    Yes, as usual, but Manchin might be in for a surprise.

  4. Will Republicans keep getting a pass on climate?

    We’ll see between now and the November midterms.

The first of the above four questions is the easiest call. The bill Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin secretly negotiated—the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, as the reconciliation bill was wisely renamed—will be the biggest positive step the US government has ever taken on climate change. When our sweltering planet is literally on fire—a new Guardian analysis estimates that excessive heat has killed millions of people over the last 30 years—strong action from the world’s leading climate superpower is indeed a big deal.

If passed by the House of Representatives later this week, the Inflation Reduction Act will invest $369 billion to hasten the US economy’s transition to carbon-free energy. That’s almost three times larger (adjusted for inflation) than the $90 billion for clean energy included in the 2009 federal stimulus bill. That $90 billion helped dramatically drop the price of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources over the past decade. The vastly larger spending in this bill should accelerate and spread that progress to more parts of the economy.

“It makes clean energy cheap, that’s the bottom line,” said Jesse Jenkins, an engineering professor at Princeton who conducted independent modeling of the spending. New federal money, often in the form of tax credits, will subsidize consumers who switch to electric vehicles or install heat pumps and other energy efficient household technologies. It will incentivize electric utility companies to shift from gas to renewables and oil and gas companies to minimize leaks of methane, an exceptionally potent greenhouse gas. It will pay to clean up America’s ports, a concentrated source of emissions that not only overheats the planet but poisons nearby communities, which tend to be disproportionately poor and people of color. By doing all this and more, the Inflation Reduction Act will create 9 million jobs over the next decade in clean energy, clean manufacturing, and natural infrastructure (e.g., forests and parks), according to the Blue Green Alliance.

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