With a dramatic timing worthy of The West Wing, Senator Joe Manchin has delivered an 11th hour deal that comes as a much-needed shot in the arm in the effort to tackle the climate crisis.
The bill, if passed into law, will be the biggest step that US Congress has taken to address domestic planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions at a dark moment when global targets are faltering.
It will also bolster US credibility on the international stage when demanding that other major emitters in China, Europe and beyond sharply cut their own fossil fuel use.
Mr Manchin, a centrist Democrat from coal-heavy West Virginia, announced with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. The plan would direct hundreds of billions of dollars to not only boost renewable energy and tackle climate issues but also lower prescription drug costs, and help pay for health insurance.
President Joe Biden said the new bill was “the action the American people have been waiting for”.
“If enacted, this legislation will be historic,” he added.
The pointedly titled “Inflation Reduction Act” is a slimmed-down version of Build Back Better, the Biden administration’s original $1.75 trillion domestic spending plan.
Mr Manchin’s U-turn follows months of heated negotiations with fellow Democrats. They aim to pass the bill via the budget reconciliation process which allows for a simple majority. But with a 50-50 Senate and zero Republican support, Democrats still needed everyone on board.
Some Republican lawmakers were outraged by the new deal, with Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton calling it a “double cross” by Mr Manchin, before calling the 725-page document “the longest suicide note in the history of West Virginia”.
Against a backdrop of rolling news coverage of wildfires across Europe, and deadly extreme heat in the US, and globally, Mr Manchin appeared to doom meaningful climate legislation just weeks ago amid reported concerns about inflation which is now at the highest level in 40 years.
His decision drew the ire of climate scientists, activists and some members of his own party as it remains possible that Democrats will lose control of the Senate in the November Midterms – dooming sweeping climate legislation for the foreseeable future.
The mood was more buoyant following the news. “Miracles happen”, Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, told The Independent after news broke.
The bill proposes $369bn in climate and clean energy investments. Among the big ticket items: Billions of dollars for tax incentives to expand renewable energy in the next 10 years, and incentivise nuclear power plant owners to stay open where they may have closed.
It will also make it easier for Americans to buy electric cars, help farmers cut agricultural emissions, and fund changes for minority and low-income communities who are most harmed by climate and environmental pollution.
The legislation will be partly funded by a 15 per cent corporate minimum tax.
The clean energy industry welcomed news of the bill which provide assurances for greater investments and rollouts in the sector.
US electricity generation is currently powered 60 per cent by fossil fuels with the rest evenly split between nuclear and renewables. The renewables industry has just seen its slowest quarter since 2019, according to a new report from the American Clean Power Association.
Heather Zichal CEO of American Clean Power Association (ACP),a multi-tech renewable energy trade association, tweeted that the agreement was “an 11th-hour reprieve for climate action & clean energy jobs”.
Rapid, large-scale climate measures are needed across all of society in the next decade if world is to have a shot at limiting average global temperature rise to the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial levels. The planet has already warmed 1.1-1.2C.
Beyond this point, scientists say impacts of climate breakdown will become more severe.
The planet is currently far overshooting 1.5C. Based on current real-world action, we are tracking to reach 2.7C by the end of the century according to independent analysis by Climate Action Tracker.
To play its part in reducing the global footprint, the US has pledged to cut emissions in half by the end of the 2020s, from 2005 levels.
According to analysis last week by the influential thinktank Rhodium Group, the US looks set for 24-35 per cent by 2030, which they partly based on lack of any new climate legislation.
Rhodium provided a rapid analysis based on Wednesday’s news of a potential Inflation Reduction Act.
“While we are still analyzing the full text, the deal includes a long-term extension of clean energy tax credits in line with what we’ve previously modeled, which means it could plausibly put the US on track to reduce emissions by 40 per cent in 2030,” the group tweeted.
“Additional action by the Biden administration and states can help close the rest of the gap to the target of a 50-52% cut by 2030.”
But climate activists and environmental groups were sounding the alarm over some provisions buried in the bill.
Mr Manchin, who has made a fortune from his state’s coal industry, stated that IRA would not reduce fossil fuel production.
“It is truly all of the above, which means this bill does not arbitrarily shut off our abundant fossil fuels”, he said. “It invests heavily in technologies to help us reduce our domestic methane and carbon emissions and also helps decarbonize around the world as we displace dirtier products.”
The non-profit Center for Biological Diversity described the provisions as Senator Manchin’s “poison pills”.
“This is a climate suicide pact,” said Brett Hartl, CBD’s government affairs director in a statement. “It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction. The new leasing required in this bill will fan the flames of the climate disasters torching our country, and it’s a slap in the face to the communities fighting to protect themselves from filthy fossil fuels.”
The 11th-hour bill also arrived with 100 days to go until the next international climate summit, Cop27, in Egypt, with other governments keeping a close eye on US progress.
There is increasing pressure from small island nations and emerging economies in the Global South who are bearing the brunt of climate impacts but have caused little of the emissions wreaking havoc.
At a forum this month, Pacific island leaders declared an official climate emergency, which “threatens the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of its people and ecosystems,” as evidenced by “the latest science and the daily lived realities in Pacific communities.”
They emphasised the need to hold to 1.5C “through rapid, deep and sustained” emission cuts and called all those attending Cop27 to aim for “clear progress on turning pledges and commitments into action.”
John Kerry, President Biden’s special climate envoy, had warned earlier this month that stalling on domestic emissions cuts would make it harder for the US to make the case abroad.
“They’ll make their own analysis that will conceivably have an impact at what they decide to do or not,” he told AP at the beginning of July.
Climate targets have been paused or been quietly edited by a number of major emitters amid the war in Ukraine which has sent oil prices rocketing, and increasing the cost of living in many countries.
Or as Democratic Senator Ed Markey memorably put it toThe New York Times on Wednesday: “You can’t preach temperance from a bar stool, and you can’t ask China, India, Brazil or other countries to cut emissions if we’re not doing it ourselves in a significant way.”