After decades of inaction on climate change at the federal level, The United States finally has a (proposed) climate law.
West Virginia Senator and frequent climate policy antagonist Joe Manchin said he would support the Inflation Reduction Act, a successor to the defeated Build Back Better plan that includes $369 billion towards climate change initiatives. Some highlights include:
The proposal also has its warts.
The Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that the Interior Department would be required to offer at least 2 million acres of federal land and 60 million acres of offshore areas for oil and gas leasing every year for the next decade.
Fossil fuel leases on public land and offshore waters have been a thorny issue for the Biden Administration, which has gone back and forth on promises to limit such permits. But there are a few things to keep in mind about federal oil and gas leases:
Lessons for Climate Communication
Manchin’s change of heart seemed to hinge on simply re-branding the Build Back Better plan to something more media-friendly, a fact that drew some scornful headlines from journalists.
But Manchin might be onto something.
A poll released this month found the while Republican voters ranked climate change dead last among their election priorities, they overwhelmingly support government incentives to increase efficiency of homes and buildings.
Many of those projects will get a major cash influx if the proposed bill passes. When the benefits are obvious, up-front and not explicitly linked to climate change, Republican voters are in fact eager to adopt climate solutions.
This mirrors one of Washington’s dirty secrets: more Republicans are privately willing to act on climate change than sometimes meets the eye.
Republican Senators publicly voiced support for a carbon border adjustment tax earlier this year. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy saw the border tax as a measure to hold China and India accountable for their emissions while keeping American products competitive during an energy transition.
Calling investments in climate solutions something else entirely just might do the trick to bring over a few votes from across the aisle and chip away at the deranged perception of climate change as a strictly partisan concern.
If Manchin and other skeptics are willing to support climate action by giving it another name, maybe climate hawks should be, too.
None of these messaging games should take away from the critical role climate activists played to get to this point. Even if Senator Machin isn’t listening to groups like the Sunrise Movement, his colleagues are, and it may have made all the difference.
The Home Stretch
Nevertheless, the ink on the proposal isn’t dry yet.
German philosopher Schopenhauer wrote that “A pessimist is an optimist in full possession of the facts,” and the fact is that even with Manchin’s approval, several obstacles remain before the proposal becomes law.
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