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The ‘Biggest Piece of Climate Legislation’ in History Is Destined to Be Forgotten

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Do you remember the “Bipartisan Safer Communities Act,” the first piece of federal gun-control legislation to be signed into law in 30 years? Voters don’t.

This week, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey measuring the electorate’s priorities ahead of November’s midterm elections found “gun violence” ranks as the second biggest issue on voters’ minds, below inflation and gas prices but outranking health-care costs and even “abortion access.” That makes sense. The problem of “gun violence” in the public’s perception relates to the terrifying randomness of mass shootings, the horror of gang violence, and even the prevalence of private firearm ownership. This law—indeed, no law—could comprehensively address these concerns.

There may be shootings that do not happen as a result of this bill, but non-events don’t achieve broader political salience unless they contribute to an aggregate—lower crime rates, for example. Bloody episodes of gun violence will still occur despite this June law, which means that this bill will probably not have a measurable impact on the public psyche. At worst, it will come to be seen as a contemptible half-measure unequal to the scale of the problem.

A similar fate awaits the climate-change bill masquerading as anti-inflation legislation presently working its way through the Senate.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema may have snatched the title of most influential Democratic senator away from her fellow moderate, Sen. Joe Manchin. The Arizona Democrat’s initial opposition to the deal that includes $485 billion in new spending agreed to by Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer melted away after she won a variety of concessions. Among them, striking a tax provision utilized primarily by the private equity sector, restructuring a minimum tax on corporations, and providing drought-relief funding to her state. Manchin has insisted he’s “not prepared to lose” the so-called “carried interest loophole” provision Sinema successfully slew. But then, Manchin also claimed he couldn’t support “unnecessary spending” until we “take more active and serious steps to address this record inflation,” so we can safely disregard Manchin’s stated priorities.

“The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 addresses our nation’s energy and climate crisis,” West Virginia’s senior senator said in a statement, “through strategic and historic investments that allow us to decarbonize,” while nodding in the general direction of rising consumer costs and America’s growing budget deficit. Indeed, “preliminary estimates” from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School show that the “Inflation Reduction Act” would actually increase inflation in the near term. Farther out, there is “low confidence that the legislation will have any impact on inflation.”

Okay, so if the bill to address inflation doesn’t address inflation, what does it do? The legislation would create “incentives” to increase the production of renewable energy technologies, like wind and solar. It would reward firms that reduce their emissions and punish those that do not. It would include means-tested subsidies for electric-car buyers, and it would provide tax rebates to homeowners who install heat pumps in their residences. For this, it has been deemed by its supporters, such as Northeastern University Professor Laura Kuhl, the “biggest piece of climate legislation that’s ever been considered in U.S. policy.”

And yet, this tremendous achievement is likely to be all but forgotten by the time voters head to the polls in November, as the legislation’s biggest proponents inadvertently confess. “This is so huge because this is kind of the last chance to adopt significant climate policy,” Kuhl continued. “If the U.S. doesn’t pass climate legislation soon, it loses all credibility and negotiating power in international arenas.”

Really? The United States, which has had consistently declining CO2 emissions for nearly two decades (the rebound from 2020’s artificial reductions notwithstanding), has no credibility when it comes to emissions rates? And how does this bill, which will accelerate the national trend toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, address emissions rates in India and China (both of which outpace the U.S.), and the burgeoning economies of Africa and South America when our example alone hasn’t had an appreciable effect? This marginal reform will doubtlessly fail to satisfy those who talk about climate change in apocalyptic terms.

Much like the gun-control bill, this legislation doesn’t do what climate-change-remediation advocates want. They want to reverse the conditions that produce extreme weather events. They want revolutionary change, but they will only get what the American system is designed to produce: incrementalism. Meanwhile, back in the Kaiser Family Foundation survey, climate change ranks as a voter priority just below the federal budget deficit.

Thus, the most expansive federal effort to address climate change in American history is almost certain to be forgotten and unloved. Oh, it will be the subject of passing references in some campaign advertisements in 2022 and 2024, probably coming right after reminders about the historic $1 trillion infrastructure bill that no one talks about. Among those who truly believe this is our “last chance” to save the world from gruesome heat death, we will still be on a pathway toward civilizational collapse. For those who regard climate change as something less than an existential challenge, there will be other priorities.

We are routinely reminded that we must “do something” about the various social maladies that plague the Democratic consciousness. Well, the last several months of legislative activity in Washington have produced “something.” It will satisfy no one.



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