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The Climate 202

The Senate finally passed a historic climate bill. Now what?

The Climate 202

Welcome back to The Climate 202 after the newsletter took a break last week! Today we have a special edition that looks in-depth at the major climate bill that passed the Senate. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow. But first:

‘You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’: Democrats cheer passage of historic climate bill

For decades, it has been virtually impossible to pass major climate legislation through the Senate. That finally changed on Sunday, when Senate Democrats passed their ambitious climate and tax package, a crucial step in a grueling journey to deliver the largest climate investment in U.S. history.

The 755-page piece of legislation, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, cleared the chamber by a vote of 51-50 after nearly 20 hours of debate on the Senate floor, with Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.

For many climate advocates, the bill is far from perfect. While it contains a record $369 billion in new spending to fight global warming and bolster clean energy, it also includes several provisions that would prolong the life of polluting fossil fuel infrastructure — a concession to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the Senate's most conservative Democrat.

But after months of working to secure Manchin's elusive vote, Senate Democrats presented a united front in support of the measure, which they said would still make a significant dent in the emissions that are dangerously heating the Earth.

“You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told The Climate 202 on Sunday.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the Senate's most vocal climate hawks, agreed. 

“This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time that the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment,” said Schatz, who fought back tears as he left the Senate floor after the bill's passage. “Now I can look my kids in the eye and say we're really doing something about climate.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the bill would enable the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would bring the nation within striking distance of President Biden's goal of cutting emissions at least in half over the next decade.

The House plans to return Friday to pass the package. The measure will then head to the White House for Biden's long-awaited signature.

Bernie gets burned on fossil fuels

The package was largely the product of private negotiations between Manchin and Schumer. That means rank-and-file Democrats were not privy to the pair's compromises on fossil fuels, including a requirement for the Interior Department to hold oil and gas lease sales before approving rights-of-way for renewable energy projects on public lands.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, blasted these compromises in a fiery floor speech on Saturday.

“We have got to do everything we can to take on the greed, the irresponsibility, the destructiveness of the fossil fuel industry — not give billions of dollars in corporate welfare to an industry that has been destroying our planet," he said.

During the Senate's so-called “vote-a-rama” on Sunday, when any senator had the power to force an amendment vote, Sanders offered proposals that would have stripped any “giveaway” to the fossil fuel industry and reinstated the Civilian Climate Corps, a popular climate program that was dropped from the Manchin-Schumer deal.

However, Democrats united in opposition to the Sanders amendments, saying it was important to keep the deal intact. They also remained largely unified in defeating Republican attempts to force tough votes on climate and other issues.

“Ultimately, there's so many great things in the bill," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who co-sponsored a major cap-and-trade bill that died in the Senate in 2010, told The Climate 202 on Sunday.

“I'm going to finish this bill, take a nap, and then begin the fight to complete the Green New Deal and create a Civilian Climate Corps," he added.

The struggle ahead over permitting reform

The deal came in part because Biden, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed to seek and pass new legislation easing the federal permitting rules for pipelines and other infrastructure in the coming months.

The permitting measure would run afoul of the rules governing reconciliation, the process that Democrats used to pass the climate package and avoid a Republican filibuster. Schumer has said the permitting proposal will instead attach to a stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, that Congress will need to pass in September to avoid a government shutdown.

In an interview with our colleague Tony Romm, Schumer acknowledged that the permitting agreement is a “mixed bag” because it could benefit not only fossil fuel projects such as pipelines, but also renewable energy projects and transmission lines needed to carry clean electricity.

“Look, I don't like parts of it,” he said. “But there are parts of it the green people like because it makes permitting green power easier, and red states have been blocking transmission lines where there are places where there is a lot of wind and sun.”

However, it's unclear whether Democrats can secure 10 GOP votes to pass the permitting measure. While Republicans have long called for streamlining the environmental review process for large infrastructure projects, they are reluctant to support a bill tied to Democrats' party-line package.

“I would really love if permitting actually came before reconciliation,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (D-N.D.), who participated in bipartisan energy meetings with Manchin in which they discussed permitting.

In a statement Sunday, Manchin projected confidence that senators would pass the permitting proposal when they return from their August recess.

“We are moving full steam ahead on comprehensive bipartisan permitting reform so we can efficiently and safely bring more domestic energy projects online,” he said. “Congress will pass that legislation next month.”

In the atmosphere

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Also the feeling after a Senate vote-a-rama:

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