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Climate bill is a step forward, but ‘a lot of work remains to be done’: For Journalists

EVANSTON, Ill. — If enacted, the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the Senate on Sunday, would be the United States’ first comprehensive climate law. With new incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles, it could lower US carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to their 2005 peak, a step forward at a time when scientists say urgent action is needed to avoid climate change’s worst impacts.

The bill’s strategy — embracing incentives over taxes on carbon pollution — helped end decades of inaction by Congress, according to faculty from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. However, the US will need to leverage other legal options if it truly wants to meet its goals and become a climate leader, they said. Below, environmental law experts weigh in on what the bill accomplishes and possible next steps. David Dana is the Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker and an expert on environmental law, property, land use and professional responsibility. He can be reached by contacting Max Witynski at [email protected].

Quote from Prof Dana

“The legislation the Senate recently passed represents a partial pivot away from proposed carbon taxes and legal mandates and toward a range of tax credits and subsidies that gently encourage, but do not require, the shift to lower or zero-carbon power sources and electric cars . The legal advantages of this approach are that credits and subsidies cannot be meaningfully challenged on constitutional or other legal grounds: there should be no problem with litigation. At the same time, the question remains how durable these subsidies and credits will be and whether, ultimately, the United States really does need a carbon tax and/or set of federal legal mandates like those that had been included in the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan in order to assume the role of global leader on climate.”

Michael Barsa is a professor of practice at Northwestern Pritzker and the co-director of the Environmental Law Concentration. He is an expert on climate change, food security and environmental law.

Quote from Prof Barsa

“Very late in the climate game, Congress has taken a modest first step toward reducing emissions. This bill provides decent incentives for clean energy and may strengthen the EPA’s hand when it comes to climate regulation. But a lot of work remains to be done. On the legislative front, Congress must now look to aggressively tax and penalize carbon emissions, and on the diplomatic front, the Biden administration must use this bill to push for further climate action abroad.”

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