This major climate bill is signed, sealed, delivered. Good job, everyone.

This major climate bill is signed, sealed, delivered. Good job, everyone.

By Steve Valk

The budget reconciliation roller coaster ride is over. Thanks, Congress, for a wild ride. The decades-long quest for major climate legislation has finally succeeded with the passage and yesterday’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, putting the United States on a path to achieve meaningful reductions in heat-trapping gases that have already warmed our world with disastrous consequences.

Considering the narrow path to passage in the 50-50 Senate, this feat was nothing short of miraculous, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer deserving much credit for negotiating a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin and holding his caucus together through the procedural minefield of budget reconciliation.

Political analysts are comparing this success to the last attempt at major climate legislation, the cap-and-trade bill known as Waxman-Markey, which squeaked through the House only to die in the Senate in 2010.

What changed the outcome this time around? Some say it is because people are now seeing the impact of extreme weather catastrophes made worse by climate change, adding pressure for lawmakers to take action. Some say that when it comes to carrots (tax incentives) and sticks (penalties), carrots are easier to sell. The decision to avoid the filibuster by going through budget reconciliation was also key.

While these were all factors in the success of the Inflation Reduction Act, I maintain that the biggest difference between then and now is political will at the grassroots level, the kind of grassroots political will that Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other grassroots organizations have built over the last 12 years.

The bill that died in 2010 was the product of an “inside the Beltway” process that produced a policy so complicated that few people in the general public could understand how it worked. Support from constituents was lacking, and when negotiations in the Senate bogged down, it was easy for lawmakers to walk away with no fear of repercussions.

Fast forward 12 years later, and the work of CCL has helped change that political calculus, because thousands of volunteers have actively engaged their members of Congress to make climate policy a priority in Washington. For example, during the past year that led to the climate legislation just enacted, CCL volunteers:

  • held 920 meetings with congressional offices,
  • generated over 225,000 letters and calls to members of Congress, 
  • wrote 2,117 letters to the editor, and 
  • published 676 op-eds.

This time around, when negotiations went off track several times, lawmakers did not walk away, and I believe it was because they knew what this legislation meant to their constituents. They could no longer kick the can down a road that was heading to a dead end. They could not give the people they represent the same excuse for failure they’d heard over and over: “It was too hard.”

The journey for this historic legislation was long and arduous, a roller coaster ride filled with twists and turns, peaks and valleys that tested everyone’s patience and nerve. Let’s take a look back at how it all happened and the role that CCL played.

2021: Congress buckles up

A change in administration and a change in Senate leadership raised expectations that major climate legislation could be enacted in the 117th Congress. Climate advocates eagerly awaited a proposal from the Biden Administration on measures to bring down carbon emissions. In an Earth Day statement on April 22, Biden said his administration was “advancing the most ambitious climate agenda in our Nation’s history. Our clean energy plan will create millions of good-paying union jobs, ensure our economic competitiveness, and improve the health and security of communities across America. By making those investments and putting millions of Americans to work, the United States will be able to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.”

Citizens’ Climate Lobby, believing 2021 presented a prime opportunity to pass carbon fee and dividend legislation, started a major push for carbon pricing to be among the solutions moving forward. Expecting that a bill might move before or during CCL’s usual June lobby period, volunteers met with hundreds of members of Congress in March. “Our volunteers are raring to go,” said Mark Reynolds, who at the time was CCL’s executive director. “They’re energized by the signals coming from Congress and the new administration that major climate policy will happen this year. Our volunteers are adept at virtual lobbying, and they’re armed with a raft of recent evidence for the momentum behind carbon pricing.”

On April 1, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) reintroduced the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act with 28 cosponsors. Though carbon pricing would not make it into the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill provided a rallying point for CCL members lobbying their members of Congress. They generated endorsements from influencers in their communities, demonstrating strong support in states and districts for climate solutions. The bill would eventually attract 95 cosponsors in the House, and CCL’s efforts would help keep climate policy high on the priority list.

Two weeks after the bill was introduced, The Hill published an op-ed from Mark Reynolds in support of Deutch’s legislation:

For a win on climate, let’s put our best player in the game. Later that month, CCL submitted testimony on the benefits of carbon pricing to the Senate Finance Committee, one of the committees responsible for drafting climate legislation. Throughout the country on Earth Day, CCL volunteers were out in their communities at events doing presentations and tabling to generate emails and calls in support of the Energy Innovation Act.

Two tracks for two bills

Following enactment of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in early March, the administration made plans for a sweeping package of infrastructure, social and climate programs. It was determined that the infrastructure elements, with bipartisan support, could move through regular order in the Senate. The $1.2 trillion bill was eventually signed into law as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021. 

Though not viewed as climate legislation, the infrastructure bill contained provisions responding to climate change, like $2.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and another $2.34 billion for low- or zero-emissions public transportation. It also contained provisions from the Storing CO2 And Lowering Emissions (SCALE) Act, one of the supporting asks CCL volunteers lobbied for last summer.

Expecting that a bill to fund social and climate programs wouldn’t get past a filibuster, a second bill was conceptualized to move through budget reconciliation in the Senate, which requires only a simple majority. That bill, which would eventually be called the Build Back Better Act, would need the votes of all 50 Democrats in the Senate, proving to be a vexing challenge in negotiations that dragged on for more than a year.

In July of 2021, Senate Democrats and the White House came to an agreement on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill for climate, child care, education, paid leave and health care. However, Senate moderates, most notably Manchin, started raising concerns about the proposal.

Following the release of the reconciliation agreement, CCL launched a campaign to make carbon pricing part of the bill. CCL volunteers flooded congressional offices with messages asking Senate Democrats to include a price on carbon in the reconciliation bill. “This is what we were built for,” said Danny Richter, CCL’s VP for Government Affairs. 

Pushing for ambitious climate policy

While Congress was working out their two-track legislative plan, CCL was continuing to add momentum to the climate policy conversation. We held a Catholic Climate Conference as an online event May 15. Carbon pricing was a major theme. Former Congressman Francis Rooney was a featured speaker and said a carbon tax is “the most logical answer to pricing carbon and removing the most hostile fuels, like coal, from the marketplace.” The National Catholic Reporter covered the conference with a lengthy story.

Several weeks later, CCL held a virtual conference, “The Push for a Price On Carbon,” to train volunteers and prepare them for the 357 lobby meetings they would hold in June and July. The primary request in meetings with Democratic offices would be to ask them to support ambitious climate legislation that would meet America’s climate goal of 50% emissions reductions by 2030. To hit that benchmark, we asked for their support of carbon pricing in the reconciliation bill later that year. In the run up to the conference, CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds extended an invitation for volunteers to participate (above) in which he said, “We’ve been running a marathon for years working to get a price on carbon, and it’s at that point now where it’s sprint time.”

Throughout summer, we kept up the drumbeat that Congress should be ambitious on climate and support policies that would achieve 50% emissions cuts within the decade. Here are some examples:

  • A marketing campaign reaching over 600,000 D.C. decision-makers through ads in The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Politico, the Washington Examiner, and the New York Times’ The Daily. Above, see an example of the ads on The Hill’s website on June 9.
  • Videos like this one, distributed on social media, calling to enact carbon pricing to reach America’s climate goal.
  • An op-ed, signed by 25 Republicans politicians in Utah, endorses carbon fee and dividend.

And we weren’t the only ones talking about carbon pricing — Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Shatz introduced a bill, the Save Our Future Act, to price carbon, and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria spends 4 minutes on his show explaining to his audience why Congress should enact carbon fee and dividend to fight climate change.

CCL would continue to beat the drum for climate action as reconciliation got underway in earnest in July 2021. In three weeks’ time, CCL generated more than 50,000 messages to senators to support carbon pricing in reconciliation. Mark Reynolds heard from a volunteer who was told by a Senate staffer that carbon pricing was “brought up in a meeting because in the past two weeks they have been getting a lot of calls… She said there had been no calls and suddenly there are a lot of calls, and it is hitting their radar.”

The roller coaster ride continues…

The infrastructure and reconciliation bills continued to move along in fits and starts. The infrastructure bill cleared the Senate(with support from us!) on Aug. 11 with 19 Republicans voting in favor. Attention then turned to the reconciliation bill containing funding for social programs and strong measures to address climate change. Sen. Whitehouse released a video message about the status of that bill and acknowledged CCL’s work to include a price on carbon, saying, “My goal is to ensure that our combined plan includes a real price on carbon that will really drive down carbon emissions and set a standard for America to lead the world.”

The reconciliation bill, however, began to encounter some headwinds. Coming out of the August recess, Sen. Manchin said Democrats should “hit the pause button” on the Build Back Better Act, saying, “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”​​ 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema also expressed concerns about the price tag: “While I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”

At the end of September, Manchin indicated that he couldn’t support a bill larger than $1.5 trillion. The prospect of cutting the reconciliation bill by more than half incensed progressives in the House, who threatened to withhold their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill that had passed in the Senate. After reassurance from President Biden and party leadership, progressives agreed to move forward, and the House would go on to pass the infrastructure bill on Nov. 5.

With one of the two tracks complete, all eyes were on reconciliation. The White House presented a $1.75 trillion reconciliation framework to House Democrats. The House would add to that figure and pass a $2.2 trillion package on Nov. 19 as talks in the Senate with Manchin dragged on.

CCL’s climate message gains serious consideration

As all the drama was unfolding in Congress, we started to see our climate and carbon pricing message reflected in senators’ own remarks. In an interview with Colorado Newsline, Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) said, “The thing I’d like more than anything is to get a price on carbon. It would be so much more efficient if there was some sort of a fee, and a dividend of some sort, that would allow us to incentivize and motivate all of these entrepreneurs all over the country … to find cleaner ways of delivering energy.” California Senator Alex Padilla tweeted, “Simply put: the best way to ensure a full and rapid transition to a clean energy future is to put a cost on carbon.” Padilla’s tweet linked to an op-ed by Mark Reynolds and CCL volunteer Paula Danz, “A world burning up and underwater must act on climate change.”

News then broke in Bloomberg that the Senate Finance Committee was considering a fee on carbon with rebates to households and border adjustments to be included in the reconciliation bill. CCL VP for Government Affairs Danny Richter shared the exciting news in this video update from Sept. 8. Noting that a carbon price was not in the Democrats outline of their budget plans earlier in the summer, Danny said, “And now, after you and your networks made 54,000 calls and emails to the Senate, it is being given serious consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.”

Sen. Whitehouse, who sits on the Finance Committee, tweeted that “methane and carbon pollution fees are getting real in reconciliation,” adding, “It’s happening.”

CCL’s Mark Reynolds was quick to jump on the good news with an op-ed in The Hill — tweeted by Sen. Whitehouse — in which he said, “Senate Finance Committee members are discussing using money generated by any new carbon tax to provide a tax rebate to working class taxpayers — ensuring that a portion of those dollars flow directly back to the families who need them and those who are most likely to be most impacted by America’s energy transition.”

The seriousness of the carbon tax talk reached the pages of the New York Times on Sept. 24 with a story that carried the headline, “Democrats Consider Adding Carbon Tax to Budget Bill.”  The Times quoted me about CCL’s efforts to bring Sen. Sinema on board: “I can tell you that our volunteers have placed 1,444 calls and emails to Arizona Senate and House offices in the last few months.” 

In another video update, Danny waxed enthusiastic about news in the Times article saying the Senate Finance Chair “confirmed that the Senate majority leader had asked him to craft legislation that would put a price on carbon emissions but to ensure that the policy would respect Mr. Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on families earning less than $400,000.”

Soon after, with the media wondering if President Biden was on board with carbon pricing in the reconciliation bill, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki whether a carbon fee would conflict with Biden’s pledge to avoid taxes on families making less than $400,000. She said, “Polluter fees do not conflict with the $400,000 pledge.”

With the expectation that the reconciliation bill could wrap up around the holidays, CCL’s November virtual conference and lobbying days seemed perfectly timed for a final push to get carbon pricing included in the legislation.

Newspaper editorials popped up urging lawmakers to support a carbon price. The Grand Junction (Colorado) Daily Sentinel said, “A carbon fee and dividend program has not been added into the Senate’s Build Back Better bill, but we believe it should be. We’re calling on our Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to back this proposal and get it in the bill.” The Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat wrote, “A fee-and-dividend system would complement Biden’s clean-electricity plan, which rewards utilities for switching from burning fossil fuels to using renewable energy. If the president’s plan is scuttled by Manchin’s opposition, fee-and-dividend could stand on its own, promoting cleaner energy and taming a threat to human survival.”

Time for some loop-the-loops

For those in CCL who’d spent considerable time and effort lobbying for carbon fee and dividend, it looked like our long ride was coming back to an exciting end. But then Joe Manchin threw us for a loop.

On Oct. 15, the New York Times reported that Manchin told the White House that he opposed the Clean Electricity Payment Plan, the centerpiece of Biden’s plan for cutting emissions on the power sector. Asked whether carbon pricing might still be in the mix, Manchin said, “The carbon tax is not on the board at all right now.”

Though the signal from Manchin on carbon pricing was not encouraging, it appeared the door was not entirely closed. When Biden released his framework for the reconciliation bill on Oct. 28, it contained $550 billion in climate spending, but no mention of a carbon price. In one of his reconciliation roller coaster posts to CCL volunteers, Tony Sirna, CCL’s VP for Organizational Strategy, wrote:

You are probably worrying about not seeing carbon pricing in that framework, but we did not actually expect to see one at this time. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has been saying:

Once Democrats agreed on an overall framework for the bill, they would then craft a companion “emissions framework.” Mr. Whitehouse described a plan in which Democrats would commit to a top-line level of emissions reductions in the bill and then add policies to the legislation to achieve those cuts.

“Once we sort out the spending and pay-fors, and then once we know what we need to do for emissions reductions, that’s when the work on a carbon fee begins in earnest,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

The following week CCL launched a Senate calling campaign for one more push to include carbon pricing in the reconciliation bill. Days after the campaign launched, Sen. Whitehouse told Bloomberg that, regarding the carbon tax, “We have 49 out of 50 votes” from Democrats in the Senate, and that if the Senate passes it, “the House has assured us they will also pass it, and the White House has assured us the president will sign it into law.”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated he was hopeful of getting a reconciliation bill to the floor before Christmas. Knowing that Manchin was the 50th vote needed to pass a bill that included a carbon price, CCL heaped extra attention on the West Virginia senator. Jon Clark, CCL’s Appalachia Regional Coordinator, published an op-ed in one of the state’s papers arguing that a price on carbon would actually save coal miner jobs by making carbon capture and sequestration economically viable. Jim Probst, state coordinator for West Virginia, published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail calling on Manchin to live up to his promises on climate change: “The time is now, Sen. Manchin. Seize the moment and take advantage of new industries and innovations, which could ensure a prosperous future for all West Virginians and secure a livable future for our grandchildren. Don’t let us down.”

The House passed its $2.2 trillion version of the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19, but in early December, Manchin was calling for a “strategic pause” in the reconciliation talks. On Dec. 19, Manchin pulled the plug on Build Back Better, saying, “I can’t vote for it. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”

Merry Christmas, everybody.

The response from Democratic colleagues was swift and severe. His announcement drew a strong rebuke from the White House, which released a statement saying his comments  “represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.” Stung by that criticism, Manchin would refuse to negotiate with the White House from that point forward.

Schumer announced the following day that the Senate would hold a vote on a revised version of Build Back Better “very early in the new year.”

Responding to the news, CCL issued a statement in which Madeleine Para, CCL’s President, said, “When Congress returns in January, Citizens’ Climate Lobby will advocate for climate policies to be a centerpiece of whatever reconciliation package continues to be debated, and for inclusion of a carbon price.”

New year dawns with hope and challenges

With the new year came fresh hope for climate legislation as Sen. Manchin signaled that a reconciliation bill could be crafted that would address climate change. “The climate thing is one that we probably can come to an agreement much easier than anything else,” he told reporters after Congress returned from holiday recess.

That glimmer of hope would have to sustain climate advocates for a while. Citing other priorities for the moment, Manchin said negotiations on reconciliation wouldn’t resume for some time, and it would be late spring before he and Majority Leader Schumer started meeting again.

CCL, however, had no intention of waiting until Manchin was back at the table.

Immediately, CCL launched a campaign to generate messages to Democratic senators and President Biden, urging them to include strong climate provisions in the reconciliation bill being negotiated.  

As Manchin was mulling over the shape and content of the reconciliation bill, CCL volunteers in West Virginia were circulating video messages urging their senator to take bold action on climate change: “My name is Rachel Kinder. I’m a West Virginian. I’m a social worker, and I’m a mom of two young kids. I consider climate change to be one of the most important issues of my lifetime. I am asking Senator Manchin to take bold action on climate change.”

CCL West Virginia also teamed up with organizations in the West Virginia Climate Alliance to record a musical parody of the Beatles’ “Hey, Jude.” Titled “Hey, Joe,” the video starts off with someone singing, “Hey, Joe, don’t let us down. Take a troubled world and make it better.”

Crisis in Europe diverts attention

At the end of February, though, a crisis in eastern Europe threatened to derail legislation on climate change. Russia invaded Ukraine, an unprovoked attack that drew condemnation from most of the world. With that condemnation came sanctions that included boycotting the purchase of Russian oil and gas.

The war in Ukraine monopolized the attention of Congress and the Biden Administration, putting on hold other business, such as a reconciliation bill that could lower carbon emissions. By squeezing the supply of oil and gas, the boycott drove up oil and gas prices, causing spikes at the gas pump and fueling inflation. The crisis called into question the wisdom of enacting policies aimed at driving down the production of fossil fuels. Opponents of climate legislation seized the moment to push for increasing oil and gas from American producers. Worries about inflation, particularly from Manchin, brought calls to apply the brakes on another big spending bill.

CCL’s marketing team then swung into action to push back on this fast-moving narrative. Using images from World War II posters, they put together a campaign telling Congress and the president to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin by getting America off fossil fuels. On our “Stand With Ukraine. Support Clean Energy” web page, CCL said: “In our updated versions [of World War era posters], weapons become clean energy infrastructure – solar panels and wind turbines replacing torpedoes and weaponry.”

The campaign, coupled with a quick action people could take to email their senators, representatives and the White House, generated thousands of messages to transition quickly away from oil and gas to take away the leverage of petro-autocrats like Putin, helping to keep climate action and clean energy investment high on Congress’ agenda.

As the campaign picked up steam, CCL volunteers started to register for our June 2022 conference, our first in-person gathering in Washington since the start of the pandemic. Once again, our conference and lobby days seemed well-timed, as it appeared the reconciliation bill would be completed and come to a vote in June or July. During this time, CCL volunteers engaged people at Earth Day events, recruiting new members and generating more messages to Congress and the president about our “Stand With Ukraine” campaign.

Also of note was CCL’s Conservative Conference held at the end of March, which featured appearances from a number of Republican members of Congress. Although most of our focus was on the reconciliation bill that only involved Democrats, CCL continued to engage Republicans on climate change with an eye toward bipartisan collaboration in the future. It also helped for Manchin, a conservative Democrat, to see support for climate solutions coming from Republicans.

Signs of movement from Manchin

In late April, Sen. Manchin started to explore the possibility of bipartisan climate legislation with a
series of meetings between Senate Republicans and Democrats
on various topics. One policy that drew particular interest from Republicans was the carbon border adjustment mechanism, part of the carbon fee and dividend proposal CCL has promoted for more than a decade. CCL’s Danny Richter said this:

“We’re encouraged to see Republicans and Democrats discussing border carbon adjustments. Our top two trading partners, the E.U. and Canada, are already moving forward with border carbon adjustments of their own. It’s smart of Congress to consider this policy, and it could lay additional groundwork for a domestic carbon price.”

Around this time, coincidentally, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a bill to assess a carbon border fee that would also apply a fee to carbon-intensive products made in the U.S., a provision deemed essential to get approval from the World Trade Organization.

As the bipartisan meetings continued on for several weeks, some climate advocates worried the meetings could delay the reconciliation process. With the August recess looming as the deadline to get a bill done, many worried the clock would run out before climate legislation could be passed. 

In early June, with it looking unlikely that 10 Senate Republicans would sign on to major climate legislation — necessary to overcome a filibuster in regular order — the bipartisan meetings ended. Manchin turned his attention to one-on-one meetings with Majority Leader Schumer to craft a reconciliation bill. At this point, the bill on the table had been trimmed down to $1 trillion, and the areas to be addressed were climate and energy, taxes, and reducing health care costs.

While the Manchin-Schumer talks percolated behind closed doors, CCL yet again ramped up the pressure to include strong climate provisions in the reconciliation bill: 

  • On June 4, CCL held the West Virginia Interfaith Climate Conference. 
  • On June 11, CCL volunteer George Banziger, published a column in the Parkersburg (West Virginia) News & Sentinel acknowledging Manchin’s bipartisan efforts on climate and making the following appeal: “As Senator Manchin and other political leaders become re-engaged with the reconciliation legislation that will come before Congress, we urge them to respond to the urgency that the science of climate change requires and to support creative ideas for economic development and job creation which a greener economy can deliver.”
  • CCL held its national conference, attended by more than 1,300 in person and online, June 11-13, followed by lobby meetings in which the primary ask for Democrats was to support and pass climate legislation in reconciliation that could meet America’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030.

Anticipating that a reconciliation deal would soon be announced, CCL prepared a quick action to call Democratic senators, urging them to vote for the bill.

And then, crushing news.

On July 14, Manchin said he couldn’t support the climate provisions and tax increases in the reconciliation bill over fears that additional spending would add to inflation, which hit 9.1% during the month of June. The only thing left in reconciliation that he could support was a provision for Medicare to negotiate drug prices and a two-year extension of subsidies for health insurance.

At this point, it looked like Democrats were resigned to taking what they could get and calling it a day. Climate advocates saw their best shot at addressing climate change in more than a decade slipping away, with no assurances that another opportunity would appear any time soon.

A miraculous turnaround

But then, something unexpected and miraculous happened. Instead of walking away in defeat as Democrats had done in 2010, a number of them refused to give up. 

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), on July 19, tweeted: “We’re much closer to a climate deal than people realize.” Hickenlooper wasn’t just tweeting wishful thoughts. Behind the scenes, according to the Washington Post, he was talking to executives at PG&E, DuPont and other firms, urging them to tell Manchin and Schumer to keep pursuing a deal. 

With inflation being Manchin’s primary concern, a number of people worked on alleviating those fears. “There was a small group of people working hard to keep the door open, specifically to address the concerns Senator Manchin had around inflation,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN). Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was enticed to make the case that climate spending wouldn’t jeopardize the economy. The Post reported that others gave Manchin information from the Penn Wharton Budget Model that left him confident that “I’m not adding to inflation.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) met with Manchin and talked about the negative comments he was hearing from fellow Democrats about the West Virginian. Here’s how the Post reported the conversation and its aftermath:

Coons then told Manchin: “I can’t think of a better way for you to prove them all wrong than to sign off on a bold climate deal. Prove every critic wrong.”

Manchin thought for a second, the source said, then responded, “It would be like hitting a homer in the bottom of the ninth, wouldn’t it?”

Quietly, Manchin that very day seemed to be angling for a deal. The senator’s staff in the morning had approached Schumer’s aides, offering a new counterproposal: Democrats could try to pass a bill in August, including money for climate change.

On July 27, Schumer and Manchin shocked everyone in Washington, and probably the world, with the announcement that they had reached an agreement on a reconciliation bill that contained $369 billion in tax credits and other incentives to address climate change. The bill, to be called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, would contain incentives for electric vehicles and a fee on methane emissions, items previously thought to be out. The last-minute intervention with  Democratic colleagues had succeeded.

Not leaving anything to chance, in the week leading up to the vote, CCL launched a campaign that delivered more than 7,000 messages to Democratic senators urging them to vote for the bill. Because Sen. Sinema was still a question mark, special attention was paid to messages for Arizona senators. Following a marathon session known as the vote-a-rama that began on Aug. 6, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act on Aug. 7 by a vote of 51-50. 

The difference this time

As I said at the start of this piece, unlike the failed attempt at climate legislation in 2010, there were Senators who refused to walk away this time. But why? What inspired and motivated them to press on in a situation most others thought was hopeless?

Part of it was seeing the impact of climate change in their states and the desire to prevent things from getting worse. But a big element — which was lacking in 2010 — was the grassroots political will generated by constituents engaging with those who represent them in Washington. Because of that engagement, senators made promises to do all they could to solve the climate crisis, and they were determined not to break those promises. 

CCL has played an outsized role in cultivating that political will.

CCL volunteers in Colorado, for example, were engaging Hickenlooper even before he was elected to the Senate, and he has become one of the biggest champions of carbon fee and dividend. CCL has also developed a great relationship with Sen. Chris Coons and worked closely with him when he introduced his bipartisan fee-and-dividend bill near the end of the 115th Congress.

Sen. Manchin, who famously shot a copy of the cap-and-trade bill in a 2010 TV commercial, hit “a homer in the bottom of the ninth inning” for climate legislation this time around. Over the years, CCL volunteers, through meetings, messages, letters to the editor and op-eds, let Manchin know that West Virginians were worried about climate change and wanted policies to reduce that threat. It turned out he was listening.

Chuck Schumer, of course, was the dealmaker who mattered most. His patience and persistence enabled him to soldier on where others would have folded. Part of what fortified his determination was the support he received from people throughout the country, and from his New York constituents, to do everything in his power to enact climate solutions.

One of those constituents was CCL volunteer Sean Dague, who serves as CCL’s state coordinator in New York.

Sean was at a town hall event on May 31 organized by Indivisible New York, where he got the chance to ask the Majority Leader a question. Noting that Biden had campaigned on addressing climate change, which was a key factor in bringing out the youth vote for Democrats in 2020, Sean asked, “What is your plan to get the president’s climate package passed in the Senate to ensure the president and Democrats more broadly deliver on climate action?”

Schumer replied that he was the only one Manchin was negotiating with. He wasn’t sure if they could get a deal done, and if they did, there would be things we didn’t like. The next question asked, “What can Democrats do to encourage young voters to come out at the midterms?” Referring back to Sean’s question, Schumer said, “Climate.”

In mid-June, CCL New York organized a calling campaign to Schumer’s office with the simple message: “Get climate done. Get the best deal you can get with Manchin, and get it done.” Other organizations pitched in, and CCL volunteer Sarah Mittiga estimates about 250 messages were delivered to Schumer.

Ready for the next ride

We often hear the expression, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Let’s give credit to the organizations that didn’t get everything they wanted in the Inflation Reduction Act but nevertheless threw their support behind the bill for the sake of the greater good that could be achieved.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby was one of those organizations. We’ve been lobbying hard for carbon fee and dividend since our inception. When it became apparent that carbon pricing would not be included in the reconciliation bill, we continued to push for the bill’s passage, because steps need to be taken now to reduce carbon emissions, even if our preferred policy isn’t among those steps.

All that said, we came darn close to achieving our goal of a carbon fee with payments to households… within one vote, as Sen. Whitehouse pointed out. Whitehouse acknowledged CCL’s work on carbon pricing at our June conference in Washington: “No group in the environmental community has been more determined to get after things like carbon pricing that will get the emissions down. We would not be in this position if you hadn’t come to Washington, and called, and emailed, and done all the work that you did to put life and energy into carbon pricing and carbon border adjustment; you did that. No group worked harder.”

There is still more work to ensure the preservation of a livable climate. Studies show the measures in the Inflation Reduction Act will bring U.S. emissions down 40% by 2030, short of the 50% goal the president committed to.

An effective price on carbon could close that gap, and CCL will continue lobbying for this essential tool. Our strategy to make this happen depends on a number of factors, like the outcome of the midterm elections. Two things, however, are sure to drive future consideration of carbon pricing:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act includes a fee on methane, which could demonstrate the effectiveness of making polluters pay for greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Europe and Canada are about to impose border carbon adjustment mechanisms, requiring a response with a policy likely to include a price on carbon.

For now, though, let us celebrate the first major step the U.S. has taken to rein in climate change. Political will was a key factor in this historic achievement, and CCL will work to help more and more citizens discover the power they have to make a difference.

 

 

Citizens’ Climate Education (CCE) and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) are non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organizations that complement each other in building political will for impactful climate solutions. CCE, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, empowers and mobilizes a growing corps of climate-concerned individuals to educate the public, media, and policymakers about climate solutions. CCL, a 501(c)(4) non-profit, supports lobbying and other activities related to specific climate policies. Want to get involved? Donate to stop climate change. Make a contribution of any amount to tax-deductible Citizens’ Climate Education today.

Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.