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Dems could pass the most ambitious climate package in years — but would it be enough?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week, Senate Democrats could pass the most ambitious climate legislation in a generation. It's all within a bill called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. And it's arrived as the country is a map of deadly floods, fires and heat advisories. This package includes clean-up incentives for power plants, expansion of clean energy and investments in electric vehicles and climate friendly farming practices. It also has some major concessions to the fossil fuel industry. Those were brokered by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, whose vote is key to passing the bill. So are the climate provisions enough to balance out the expansion of drilling and pipelines? Manish Bapna is president and CEO of the National Resources Defense Council. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MANISH BAPNA: Great to be here, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This bill is less ambitious than your organization had been pushing for. So how are you feeling about it?

BAPNA: Well, it is less ambitious than we hoped, but it contains, by far, the strongest climate action ever taken in American history, full stop. It will meet a 40% reduction in emissions in 2030. And that's a very significant step towards meeting President Biden's 50% to 52% goal that he set forth about a year and a half ago.

SHAPIRO: And when you weigh that against the fossil fuel provisions that, for example, require the federal government to sell leases for drilling on federal lands and waters, how do they compare?

BAPNA: If you look at the positive provisions in the bill, whether it is around clean electricity, electric vehicles, decarbonizing heavy industry, they're at least 10 to 1 times greater than the emissions that would be produced from oil and gas leasing or some of the public support for dirty energy or biofuels.

SHAPIRO: I know that there are many different provisions in this bill, but when you look at the different clean energy incentives and programs, what do you think will make the biggest single impact?

BAPNA: There are three or four that really stand out. Probably the most important are the programs that will help households and businesses install new clean electricity, like wind and solar. They'll provide tax credits that lower the cost of those projects. Second, I think we see a lot of support for electric vehicles that will help people buy new and used plug-in or fuel cell electric vehicles. We also see significant support for heavy industry and manufacturing - helping cement, steel, aluminum implement more transformational technologies to decarbonize those plants. Finally, we actually see quite a bit of money for agriculture and forestry conservation that will help store carbon in our lands and in our forests.

SHAPIRO: As you say, a lot of this comes in the form of tax credits or incentives, which are not mandates, not requirements. What are the chances that companies don't take advantage of these incentives, that individuals don't claim these tax credits and the goal is not met?

BAPNA: These are very robust, long-term tax credits where industry has been strongly advocating for their inclusion in such a bill. So we saw this whirlwind change from a deal that wasn't going to happen to a deal that was going to happen in no small part because industry stepped up about the importance of these tax credits. So I think there's very strong confidence that these tax credits will be used at scale.

SHAPIRO: OK. So you've talked about the goal of reducing carbon emissions 40% compared to 2005 levels by the end of this decade. How does this package fit into the larger goal of keeping global temperatures from increasing more than two degrees Celsius beyond which we're told absolute cataclysms would occur?

BAPNA: Well, the United States is absolutely necessary but not sufficient for solving the global climate problem. The United States needs to do its fair share, which is at least a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. This bill will take the United States from 30% without the bill - 30% less emissions in 2030 - to 40% below. The United States still needs to take additional actions to get to 50%. But with a credible pathway, the United States can lead in and help ensure that other major emitters - China, the European Union, India - do their fair share. But without this bill, the U.S. doesn't have the credibility to do so. And that's why this bill is so critical to unlocking greater global ambition on climate.

SHAPIRO: I know you've been working on this for a very long time. Can you just describe what it was like for you personally to go from a couple of weeks ago reporting that the bill was dead, that the deal wasn't going anywhere to this moment where it looks like Congress might pass, and the president might sign, the most ambitious climate legislation in a generation?

BAPNA: About a week ago, I was very, very angry. I felt we let a really important opportunity slip through the cracks. But if we can get this enacted, it is going to reinvigorate jobs, growth, innovation, reducing the deficit, fighting inflation, improving energy security in a way that will actually significantly reduce emissions. It's not done by any stretch of the imagination, but we're in a very different place today than we were five, six days ago.

SHAPIRO: You're still not counting chickens, huh?

BAPNA: Not until the bill is signed.

SHAPIRO: Manish Bapna is president and CEO of the National Resources Defense Council. Thanks a lot.

BAPNA: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.