Science & Nature

U.S. Senate passes historic climate bill

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The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 on Sunday, a $433 billion climate, energy, health, and tax bill that will set the United States on course to reduce its cumulative emissions roughly 40 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030. Fifty Democratic senators voted for the bill, including centrists Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona. Republican senators unilaterally opposed the legislation. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote. 

In a statement, President Joe Biden said that the bill “makes the largest investment ever in combating the existential crisis of climate change.” 

The Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, came out of left field. Democratic leadership had been gunning to pass a climate bill since President Joe Biden’s very first months in office last year. But they immediately ran into roadblocks that seemed insurmountable. Sinema and Manchin wouldn’t support the initial versions of the IRA, which was a problem because Democrats needed all 50 members of their party in the Senate to vote in lockstep. Less than a month ago, Manchin, citing rising inflation, said he was unable to support the previous iteration of the IRA, called the Build Back Better Act. It looked like 18 months of negotiations had proven fruitless, and climate action and several other pillars of Biden’s first-term agenda were on hold until after the midterm elections this November — or possibly for good. 

But then, in a surprise twist, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer came to an agreement at the end of July: $369 billion for climate and energy-related measures, subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, and enough new tax revenue to pay for the new policies and reduce the deficit by some $300 billion. On Thursday, Sinema, the last holdout, signaled her support for the IRA after negotiating changes to the bill, including removing a $14 billion tax hike for hedge fund and private equity managers from the bill and adding in drought relief money for her state. It took Senate Democrats just four days to go from announcing the legislation to passing it. 

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Independent analyses estimate that the IRA would slash approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s emissions ledger over the course of the next decade, prevent up to 3,894 premature deaths per year by 2030, and get the U.S. two-thirds of the way to Biden’s goal of reducing total emissions 50 percent compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Executive actions by Biden and state-level emissions policies could close the gap on the remaining third. Without the IRA or any other new federal efforts to limit climate change, emissions would only decrease 27 percent by 2030. 

The IRA now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote. If it clears the House, which it is expected to, it will then go to Biden’s desk for his signature.

Green groups celebrated the Senate’s passage of the IRA over the weekend. “Every ZIP code across America will benefit from the good jobs, lower costs, and reduced pollution from the historic Inflation Reduction Act,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement. “Today, Senate Democrats — without a single Republican vote — made a historic investment in the planet, the economy, and the American people,” said Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “On its own, the Inflation Reduction Act is one of the most significant pieces of economic and climate legislation in a generation.”


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