One month ago, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Law—a historic initiative that contains unprecedented investments in climate stability and safety. This is the climate law that we’ve been working toward for years. More than $360 billion— yes, billion with a “b”—will pour into a range of critical clean energy, pollution prevention, and environmental justice programs that will result in slashing US climate pollution 40% by 2030.
The passage and signing of the Inflation Reduction Law made headlines. But there’s a story behind the story. It’s a story of showing up and speaking up, shaking hands and holding signs, bringing children to the halls of Congress and the steps of the Capitol, and keeping up our energy through an intense year of climate advocacy and activism. I’ve had a front row seat to that story behind the story.
Last September, I collected my courage, took my daughters by the hand, and approached Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. I was at one of our first in-person events in DC since the pandemic had started, and we were pushing for quick passage of climate investments in the Build Back Better Act. At the time, we thought we were in a sprint to the finish line: Build Back Better was supposed to be passed by the House and Senate by October 2021. Valencia, Natalia, and I were happy to present Leader Schumer with a painted map of the US with the message “Climate Safety 4 All” on it. We shared with Leader Schumer that Moms Clean Air Force would do everything we could to make climate investments a reality, and we were counting on him to do the same.
What I didn’t know then was that doing “everything we could” took a lot longer than I could have imagined. Over that time, we hosted, organized, and participated in a dizzying number of events in states across the country. In DC alone, Moms did 21 events of all different types to promote the passage of climate investments over the space of a year. We just kept going. We rode bikes to promote climate investments; we painted a sari to raise awareness about climate impacts; we held Halloween and hot chocolate themed events about climate change.
And then in July, we heard that everything had broken down. Senator Manchin, whose vote would be essential to the passage of any climate package, said that he wouldn’t support the framework that seemed so close to passage. It was a down day for so many of us. That day, I was traveling on vacation with my family, and my husband had COVID at the time. When I heard the news, I felt deflated. But, I just decided not to despair. I wasn’t ready to give up on our goal: legislation to substantially reduce US climate emissions.
By the time I returned from vacation, I too had COVID. Suddenly the media was reporting that Senators Schumer and Manchin were close to reaching a deal. From my quarantine room, I started to organize a final push of events to publicly support climate investments. I created the “climate oracles,” two life-size silhouettes of children collaged to show the importance of climate safety for our children. I tested negative the Friday before the Senate vote and was able to join Lucia Valentine, our West Virginia coordinator, for an in-person meeting that day with Senator Manchin’s staff. I worked through the weekend in anticipation of the vote. I arrived at the Senate on Sunday and joined a group of steadfast activists rallying next to the Capitol. When the bill passed the Senate, the electric, frenetic, tired energy was so palpable in that crowd. Senator Markey’s staff joined us outside with cake they’d eaten to get through the grueling Senate voting process.
Getting a bill passed through the Senate was a huge accomplishment, but it wasn’t the end of the process. We knew we had to push hard to get the bill through the House vote six days later, and we were there for another grueling day as the House vote slipped later and later into the afternoon. I joined allies on Capitol Hill to cheer on members of Congress as they entered the Capitol to take their votes. My nine-year-old daughter Valencia asked to stay with me at the Hill all day long. She wanted to be part of the rally of passionate climate activists watching history unfold in real time. At 5 o’clock on August 12, the moment had arrived, and it was official: the Inflation Reduction Act had passed the House. It was moving on to the President’s desk for his signature. Members of Congress were jubilant as they walked in and out of the Capitol to finally see this long campaign result in real climate gains.
The bill was signed into law just a few days later, with little fanfare. I kept pinching myself: We were going to achieve a 40% reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030!!
One month later, earlier this week, we were able to finally acknowledge this win with the ceremony it deserved. I was invited to the White House to celebrate, and it did feel like a party! I was on the White House lawn with Elizabeth Hauptman, our Michigan state coordinator, and more than a thousand other advocates for the healthcare, infrastructure, and environmental gains contained in the Inflation Reduction Law. President Biden thanked all the people who signed petitions, showed up, and kept demanding climate solutions.
It was an honor to be there. But there is more work to do.
Passing a law doesn’t magically wipe our problems away. We will have to continue to show up and engage with all the decision makers who will implement the critical climate programs funded by the new law. We will be working with the Environmental Protection Agency and many other government agencies for years to come, and we will need you to continue this work with us.
The Inflation Reduction Law is the best climate bill that could pass the Senate at this time, but that doesn’t mean that it is as fair and ambitious as it should to be. We have to fight for the next climate bill, which will be better than this one. Also, we don’t yet have a clear view of what the “permitting side deal” that we expect to be introduced in Congress will contain. If the bill ends up reflecting a lack of input from communities impacted by oil and gas development, as reporting suggests, we will fight for the health and safety of our families and communities.
Advocating for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Law felt like an experience in trying to push through a marathon tape made of rubber that was slowly moving farther and farther down the road. Now I see that this moment is more like the end of a single day in a multistage endurance race. We rest, reflect on successes and challenges, and recoup for the next stage. Please continue this race to climate safety with us.