Climate and Congress

Historic political action, but is it enough?

 

On June 30, just days after torrential rains exacerbated by climate change deluged the Greater Yellowstone Region, demolishing homes, displacing families and upending lives and livelihoods, a Supreme Court ruling hobbled the Biden administration’s power to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The court’s opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, essentially said that only Congress could make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence.”

The Pisa Room in Titan Cave, east of Cody, Wyoming. Scientists are analyzing stalactites and stalagmites to gain insight into the climate of the past and the future.
Lindsay D’Addato/High Country News

Climate advocates plunged into despair. Congress make a decision? Congress do anything meaningful at all — especially on climate change? To say it seemed unlikely is to put it mildly. 

After all, Democratic lawmakers (and a few Republicans) have been trying, and failing, to pass climate legislation for decades. Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration pushed for a fossil fuel tax. But not only did it bite the (rapidly growing) dust, its backers were punished by voters in the notorious 1994 mid-term rout. A decade later, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain teamed up with Connecticut’s Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was still a Democrat at the time, to sponsor a bill capping greenhouse gas emissions. That, too, was a no-go — though McCain’s career survived, something unlikely to happen in the GOP today. Abandoned congressional climate bills have piled up like tumbleweeds over the years, the latest casualty being Build Back Better, which withered away and died in the narrowly Democratic-majority Senate.  

So when Roberts declared that only Congress could act to avoid a climate catastrophe, it was a devastating blow — to the entire planet. But a handful of Democratic lawmakers rose to the challenge and doubled down on their determined negotiations. And just weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, Senate Democrats — with a good deal of help from their pragmatic Western colleagues — finally secured a deal on a bill that tackles not only climate, but also inflation, health care and taxation. 

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which President Joe Biden signed into law Aug. 16, is not perfect by any means. It makes numerous concessions to the fossil fuel industry and, because it’s a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation bill, is unable to actually mandate emissions cuts. But it is nonetheless historic, allocating some $369 billion toward renewable energy, environmental justice, heat pumps, efficiency and electric vehicles. Independent analysts predict that it will cut emissions more than 40% by 2030, positioning the U.S. as a global leader in the battle against climate change. 

Jonathan Thompson, acting co-editor

Perhaps the most remarkable fact is that our notoriously polarized and dysfunctional Congress managed to pull this off at all, overcoming conservative Democratic resistance and unyielding Republican obstruction. Maybe this bill is a freak of nature — the first and last of its kind. Or perhaps the public and its representatives, increasingly battered by climate change, are finally waking up to the need to act and make more decisions of genuine “magnitude and consequence.” 

Jonathan Thompson is an acting co-editor at High Country News. He is the author of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became the Battlefront of American Public Lands. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty