With the Inflation Reduction Act, the US brings climate goals within reach

Congress officially passed the Inflation Reduction Act after a successful vote in the House on Friday, paving the way for the largest clean energy package in US history. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law soon, putting the US within sight of meeting its climate goals under the Paris accord.

The bulk of the bill’s spending — $369 billion — goes toward building domestic production of electric vehicles and clean energy technologies, plus making homes and buildings more energy efficient. There is another $4 billion to advance drought resilience in the western US. Outside of climate initiatives, the bill also spends $64 billion in health care subsidies to prevent insurance premiums from rising for people who buy their coverage through the public market.

Preventing Disastrous Heat Waves, Wildfires and Hurricanes

According to independent analysis, the Inflation Reduction Act succeeds in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US by about 40 percent from their peak levels this decade. That’s still less than the 50 to 52 percent cut Biden promised under the Paris climate accord. But it would go a long way in preventing catastrophic heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes and other climate-induced disasters from getting worse as global temperatures rise. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by roughly half this decade to prevent coral reefs from becoming extinct and more than doubling the percentage of the world’s population exposed to extreme heat waves.

The bill was seen as Democrats’ last chance to pass sweeping climate legislation while still holding a slim majority in Congress. The Senate passed the reconciliation bill after more than a year of dramatic and fraught negotiations with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

As part of the compromise, the final bill will reduce pollution reduction provisions compared to previous versions and impose more federal lease sales for oil and gas drilling. It also extends tax credits for controversial carbon capture technologies supported by fossil fuel companies. Big Oil uses the technology for “enhanced oil recovery” – shooting captured carbon into the ground to extract hard-to-reach reserves – and then claims that the oil they produce is “carbon neutral”.

These measures could prolong dependence on fossil fuels

In another Manchin concession, Democrats are also working on a side deal that would streamline the natural gas pipeline. Those measures could prolong dependence on fossil fuels and the pollution that comes with it — harming communities near oil and gas infrastructure, warn climate and environmental justice advocates.

The US remains the second largest climate polluter in the world after China and has historically emitted the most greenhouse gases. The current push to cut US emissions is thus crucial to global efforts to mitigate climate change.