Passage of major climate legislation is victory for future generations

Published 12:34 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

BY MADELELINE PARA
& NORMA MORRISON
Those hoping to preserve a livable world for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren can find much to celebrate in the climate provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. The bill, which President Biden has since signed into law, contains a huge investment in low-carbon technologies and is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.
The significance of this legislative victory cannot be overstated. For decades, scientists warned of the dire consequences we face for failing to bring down the heat-trapping emissions that are warming our world. For far too long those warnings were ignored, and hopes that our nation would take action were raised again and again only to be dashed for lack of political will.
Now, at last, the political will is there. Congress has finally listened and delivered. With these policies in place, the United States will embark on a transformational journey to wean ourselves off the fossil fuels driving climate change, and in the process remove air pollution that sickens millions of Americans and inflicts billions of dollars in damage to our economy.
The Inflation Reduction Act will speed this transition by providing tax credits over the next 10 years to develop and deploy clean energy like wind and solar. Money will also be used to help households become more energy efficient and to replace gas appliances with ones powered by electricity, like heat pumps and induction stoves. Middle- and low-income Americans will also be eligible for tax credits to help them buy electric vehicles that are made in the U.S.A., thereby reducing the carbon emissions and unhealthy air pollution from gasoline-powered cars and trucks.
The incentives in this legislation will provide economic opportunity here in our area by increasing the demand for products and services like heat and cooling contractors (i.e. Legg’s and Guy’s in Hampton), electric vehicles (i.e. Rick Hill in Kingsport), Energy Star appliances, home insulation and energy efficient windows (i.e. Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart). Commercial building owners like Dick Widdous of Duck Crossing will be able to receive a tax credit up to $5 per square foot to support energy efficiency improvements that deliver lower utility bills.
Another important provision in the Inflation Reduction Act addresses the leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s a big contributor to global warming, and to reduce those emissions, this legislation imposes a fee that rises over time. The principle is simple: Discourage bad behavior by making it more expensive. It worked really well to reduce the number of people who smoke cigarettes.
Disadvantaged communities that typically bear the greatest burden from climate change and pollution will also get help. Some $60 billion will be used on environmental justice programs in those communities.
This long-sought breakthrough on climate legislation was made possible by grassroots support that was lacking in previous “inside the Beltway” efforts. Over the past year, for example, Citizens’ Climate Lobby generated more than 200,000 letters and phone calls to members of Congress urging passage of a reconciliation bill that contains strong climate provisions. Members of other advocacy groups urged Congress to tackle climate as well. This victory was won by concerned citizens who made their voices heard by decision makers in Washington.
Meaningful steps to fight climate change come not a moment too soon. Extreme weather-related disasters made worse by rising temperatures, like flooding this summer that killed dozens in Missouri and Kentucky, are becoming more frequent and could soon outpace our ability to adapt and recover. In Tennessee, the impact of an altered climate is being felt in July for example with excessive heat warnings for West and Middle TN, above normal temperatures, additional heat advisories for at least one county in TN on 16 days, and the seventh warmest July for Tri-Cities with each city recording warmest average overnight low temperature (TN State Climate Office, E.T.S.U.).
Throughout the global community, the U.S. has been viewed as a laggard on climate change. This legislation will help restore U.S. climate leadership. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced in every country around the world, and our example will inspire and motivate other nations like China and India to increase their climate ambition.
We are grateful to Senator Hagerty for supporting the CHIPS and Science Act or Creating Helpful Incentives to produce Semiconductors for America Act which will help us realize a more livable future for the environment and economy.
More will be needed to meet the U.S. pledge to cut emissions in half by 2030, but for now let’s celebrate the passage of this historic legislation, which brings hope that we and future generations can live in a hospitable climate. The best time to do something about climate change was 20 years ago. The next best time is now, and that’s finally happening.
(Madeleine Para is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Norma Morrison, Co-Leader of Northeast Tennessee chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.)

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