February 25, 2024

In a 50-50 Senate and more than a decade later, Markey and the rest of his Democratic colleagues voted in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act — by far the largest climate investment in US history. The bill, which still needs to be voted on in the House, contains more than $370 billion in tax incentives and other funding to supercharge clean energy and reduce global warming emissions.

“I don’t know if it’s gotten to me enough yet,” the New Mexico Democrat told CNN. “We thought we were going to do this in 2009, 2010 and obviously it took another 12 years. I think it will be transformative.”

It is not too early to pass the bill. 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 for more than 4 million years, the scientists reported in Juneand human emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise.

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

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

Through that lens this vote was personal for many senators, some of whom told CNN they were voting with the future of their children and grandchildren in mind.

“This is about their lives and whether they’re going to have a planet to grow up on,” Tom Carper, chairman 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 that.”

“The planet itself is at stake”

Climate victory was not assured.

Since negotiations began more than a year ago, lawmakers and officials have watched other versions of that bill die in dramatic fashion. The final, nuanced version came back during recent secret negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — the key Democratic swing vote.

“Each near-death experience has been just as terrifying as the last,” said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. “I’ve never had so many ups and downs with a single bill. It’s had an unusual amount of twists and turns, but also — the planet itself is at stake.”

As Manchin complained in July about the bill’s impact on inflation and energy security, he also got earshot from 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 events and urged him to act.
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“I would say, ‘I need you to help my state,'” Carper said. “My state is the lowest performing state in America; my state is sinking.”

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

Over the course of a few weeks, Democrats watched Manchin go from “no” to the face of the bill, defending it to the press.

“Everybody’s heard him say if he can explain it, he can vote for it,” Sachs said. “He finally got to an account he’s proud of, and then it’s like a light switch goes on. He’s not being dragged kicking and screaming, he’s dragging everyone else and driving the messages to this account.”

On Thursday night, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced 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” on Thursday, Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota told CNN. “Tears welled up in my eyes; I was so happy.”

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

Big win before the midterms

Senate escalators told CNN their work is not done, but which path they take depends on the outcome of midterm elections in November and whether the party can hold on to its fragile majorities in Congress.

Immediately, Democrats will work on an environmental permitting reform bill that Schumer and Manchin agreed to advance this fall as part of their broader deal, lawmakers told CNN. Manchin wanted a maximum two-year timeline for drilling permit reviews and an expedited process for some large, interstate power transmission projects.
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But it would also advance a controversial pipeline project in Virginia and West Virginia that has long been a priority for Manchin. That measure would need Republican votes to pass the 60-vote threshold, which could complicate matters.

“We always knew there would be some dirt,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told CNN of the fossil fuel measures. However, Whitehouse admitted, “some of these we will want”, such as the provisions to speed up licensing for electric transmission.

Climate hawks also plan to put more pressure on the Biden administration to implement strong regulations and executive actions, and some are mulling an effort to resurrect measures Manchin killed last year, such as a clean power plan that would have led to even bigger cuts fossil fuel emissions.

For now, they are relieved to have finally scored a major climate victory.

“I think this bill will show the power of action,” Smith said. “I don’t think it will be the last thing we do by any means, but it will break the barrier of inaction.”

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