Bipartisan climate lessons from the 117th Congress

Bipartisan climate lessons from the 117th Congress; the image depicts two people shaking hands; congress; price on carbon; carbon price

Bipartisan climate lessons from the 117th Congress

By Don Addu

It’s been a remarkable few weeks since the Inflation Reduction Act. So this timing, I think, is kind of funny, because I want to talk about bipartisanship, considering we just celebrated a partisan bill. I want to start with this article from the Atlantic. The title of this article is “Congress Just Passed a Big Climate Bill. No, Not That One.” And it says: 

Yesterday, President Joe Biden signed into law one of the most significant investments in fighting climate change ever undertaken by the United States. The new act will boost efforts to manufacture more zero-carbon technology in America, establish a new federal office to organize clean-energy innovation, and direct billions of dollars toward disaster-resilience research.

No, I’m not talking about the Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark Democratic climate and taxes bill that passed the Senate on Sunday along party lines. I’m talking about a different piece of legislation: The CHIPS and Science Act.

Since it sailed through Congress last month, the CHIPS Act has mostly been touted as a $280 billion effort to revitalize the American semiconductor industry. What has attracted far less attention is that the law also invests tens of billions of dollars in technologies and new research that matter in the fight against climate change.

Over the next five years, the CHIPS Act could direct an estimated $67 billion, or roughly a quarter of its total funding, toward accelerating the growth of zero-carbon industries and conducting climate-relevant research, according to an analysis from RMI, a nonpartisan energy think tank based in Colorado.

That would make the CHIPS Act one of the largest climate bills ever passed by Congress. It exceeds the total amount of money that the government spent on renewable-energy tax credits from 2005 to 2019, according to estimates from the Congressional Research Service. And it’s more than half the size of the climate spending in President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. That’s all the more remarkable because the CHIPS Act was passed by large bipartisan majorities, with 41 Republicans and nearly all Democrats supporting it in the House and the Senate.

Yet CHIPS shouldn’t be viewed alone, Lachlan Carey, an author of the new analysis and an associate at RMI, told me. When viewed with the Inflation Reduction Act, which the House is poised to pass later this week, and last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, a major shift in congressional climate spending comes into focus. According to the RMI analysis, these three laws are set to more than triple the federal government’s average annual spending on climate and clean energy this decade, compared with the 2010s.

That is phenomenal. We are poised to triple the amount of investment in clean energy in the 2020s as opposed to 2010. 

That’s not a fluke. These things don’t just happen — it happened because of the work that you as CCL volunteers have put in to shift the narrative on climate policy.

I want to talk a little bit about what this means in terms of our bipartisanship. We’ve always said that we want to make climate a bridge issue and not a wedge issue, and it’s clear that we are succeeding in doing that. Bipartisanship on climate is now real.

Now, that may sound strange, when elected Republicans and Republican candidates on the campaign trail aren’t vocally supporting climate action. Clearly, the climate conversation still has a way to go before lawmakers are back to sitting on the same couch and talking about their shared climate priorities. But major bills this Congress show that Republicans will vote — and now, they have voted — to allocate climate-friendly funding more than ever before. That’s a shift worth celebrating! 

I want to talk a little bit about how we got here. Ten years ago, bipartisanship on climate change was a fantasy. The idea that Republicans and Democrats would pass climate legislation was not based in reality — it was simply a belief that we had. At that time, the vast majority of elected Republicans denied the existence of climate change, and those that did accept the science were certainly not going to vote for any government spending to address it.

But we believed it was possible.

Our first victory came in 2015 when Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from New York, introduced what we called the Gibson Resolution, where 11 Republicans publicly stated on the record that climate change was real and that Congress should act. Those 11 grew to 17

In February of 2016, we had the formation of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House, with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL-22) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26).

By the end of 2017, there were 90 members of that caucus. Many of them were there because you asked them to be there. That’s why they joined.

In 2018, Republicans got into the carbon pricing game with new legislation. The MARKET CHOICE Act made its debut, along with the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

Then in 2019, Sen. Braun and Sen. Coons started the Climate Solutions Caucus in the Senate — a nod to the House group, as the Senate almost never creates caucuses.

Now keep in mind the engagement of Republicans in both of these caucuses in both chambers of Congress, along with the new Republican-led carbon pricing bill, all happened under President Trump.

So now we’ve set the stage for the current 117th Congress.

Last year, Republicans voted to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, providing $47.2 billion to resiliency, $7.5 billion for electric buses and ferries, another $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, $65 billion for clean energy transmission and $21 billion to address legacy pollution.

And then in 2022, Republicans passed the CHIPS and Science Act with $67 billion toward investment in zero-carbon industries, along with conducting climate-relevant research. 

In the 117th Congress, $215.2 billion for climate has happened because of Republican votes — because of Republican support. It could not have happened without them.

So what does that mean for us? Well, it means that we don’t have the same context that we did seven years ago. The conversation around climate has changed because we believed it could, and we worked to make that belief a reality.

So take heart, because the facts are clear. This bipartisan thing really does work.

Are we done? Absolutely not. Until every piece of climate legislation can pass Congress with robust bipartisan majorities, we still have work to do to foster bipartisan climate efforts.

We’re not there yet. But we have turned the direction of the ship. 

In order for us to get that ship sailing faster in the right direction, we’ve got to let go of our partisanship. I know this is a challenge. It’s a challenge for me — I would actually go as far to say that it feels like an impossible task when every single thing we read tells us that the other side is wrong and amplifies the divide.

But we have to let that narrative go and believe that we can solve this together.

You have proven to me how much power our belief has. You’ve shown me how your tireless work translates that belief into reality. So let’s continue to hold true to who we are and keep on preaching, because we’re converting an awful lot of folks — members of Congress included.