Congress is finally addressing climate crisis with Inflation Reduction Act

The Kyoto Protocol. McCain-Lieberman. Waxman-Markey. Build Back Better. For more than 25 years, we’ve come oh so close to taking action on climate, only for those efforts to flame out. Lord knows I’ve been wrong before, but I’m filled with hope that now, in 2022, Washington is finally willing to take the bold action that’s so desperately needed to address the climate crisis and environmental justice

Passing the Inflation Reduction Act is critical to Congress finally addressing the climate crisis. Full stop. Hours after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced this deal, Eastern Kentucky and Southwest Virginia were devastated by flooding. This comes after Missouri was flooded and communities across the country continue to grapple with a life-threatening heatwave and wildfires. The climate crisis is stealing our lives, our livelihoods and our communities right now – we cannot wait one day more for Congress to act.

The legislation the Senate is now considering is nothing short of a game changer. Contained in this legislation’s pages is a pathway for how we can – and must – reduce our carbon emissions by 40 percent by the end of the decade. As we do so, we will finally begin to address environmental injustices that have plagued so many of our communities for so long.

By investing billions in clean energy, we will advance the transformation of how we power our communities. We will continue the electrification of cars across the country and ensure they’re available to every person, regardless of income bracket. We will build safer, cleaner and more cost-effective buildings and homes. And we will generate thousands of new, well-paying jobs, transforming our economy.

But perhaps most critical is how this legislation will invest in the communities that have been saddled with among the most polluted air and water in our country. The Inflation Reduction Act features provisions that move us toward incorporating cross-cutting environmental, equity and labor standards into public investments and ensuring accountability. It will reduce legacy pollution through crucial grant programs. And it establishes a clean energy and sustainability accelerator fund to target greenhouse gas reductions in our communities. Like I said, game changer.

As remarkable as this legislation is and as significant an impact as it will have, it is anything but perfect. As robust as the environmental justice provisions are, this bill preserves the status quo of leaving the Gulf South as a sacrifice zone. For decades, the Gulf South has been deemed expendable. The fossil fuel industry, with protection and support of its political allies, has filled the air with toxins and polluted the water with unfathomable amounts of oil, all under the guise of claiming it was for the progress of man. This legislation takes measures to lock in this devastating situation for decades to come.

Fossil fuels are not the solution to the crises we face. Protecting certain communities while endangering others does not propel our country forward. If we are all to enjoy a safe, healthy, livable future, we cannot leave any one person or one community behind.

Hellish heat and high water have already come. And yet, for 25 years, we have failed to confront the climate crisis head-on. When we pass this legislation – and we must pass it – we will finally put an end to this cycle. We will properly invest in our communities and in our clean air and water. We will address environmental injustice. And we will begin to ensure our collective future is safeguarded, the way we always could do – but failed.

The countdown clock on preventing the climate crisis entirely has long expired. But Congress’ opportunity to take action to prevent the worst effects of the crisis still has seconds on the clock. They must pass this bill before time runs out.

Ramón Cruz is president of the Sierra Club.

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