Photo of an orange sunset across a parched, cracked riverbed.
Cracked River Bed A river bed turned dry and cracked in California. © Zhuowen Chen/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Policy

The U.S. Climate Policy Opportunity We Can’t Miss

Our Best Chance to Address the Climate Crisis is Now with “Build Back Better” Legislation

Jason Albritton.
Jason Albritton Director of Climate & Energy Policy for The Nature Conservancy

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In the United States, at long last, we have a real chance to enact enduring policies to address the climate crisis.

Congress is considering major initiatives to address root causes of climate change, among other things, in a budget reconciliation process. While nothing is final and intense negotiations are ongoing, the policies currently on the table would enable the United States to meet its stated goal of reducing emissions 50% by 2030.

There’s No Time to Wait

Tell Congress: Don’t Miss This Opportunity for Climate Action

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The last time Congress was this close to significant climate action was more than a decade ago. We can’t afford to wait that long again. If we don’t seize this opportunity now, we may not get another chance before it is too late. Science tells us the world must cut our emissions roughly in half by the end of the decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  

And people see and feel the need to act. Climate change used to seem like something for the future and far away. Now, it is present and personal. A recent analysis showed that nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer alone. That’s not even counting the almost two-thirds who live in a county that experienced a heatwave. The tragic human and economic tolls from floods, drought, wildfires and extreme temperatures made more frequent and intense due to climate change have made it impossible and too costly to ignore.

To put us on the path we need, Congress should include robust climate change provisions in “Build Back Better” legislation being advanced through budget reconciliation. 

To put us on the path we need, Congress should include robust climate change provisions in “Build Back Better” legislation being advanced through budget reconciliation.

Jason Albritton TNC's Director of Climate and Energy Policy in U.S.

Priorities to Reduce Emissions and Address the Root Cause of the Climate Crisis

Accelerating the clean energy transition and driving down emissions across the economy should be a top priority for this legislation. 

  • Tax Credits: The bill should reform a range of existing tax credits for clean energy, energy efficiency, advanced manufacturing, and electric vehicles, to offer long-term certainty and additional flexibility while establishing new incentives for electric transmission and energy storage. This alone has the potential to cut U.S. power sector emissions by 64 to 73% below 2005 levels by 2031.
  • Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP): A CEPP that provides additional incentives for electricity providers to increase production of clean energy would build on these tax credits and drive additional emissions reductions in electricity generation.
  • Price on Carbon: Another key element to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that should be part of the final bill is a modest economy-wide fee on carbon pollution. This has long been a goal to help ensure ambitious climate goals are achieved. In addition, it generates revenue that would help pay for some of these other priorities.
  • Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry: Increased funding for climate-smart agriculture and forestry programs would also help meet the climate challenge by using natural and working lands for increased carbon capture and storage. Conserving healthy forests and soils also brings additional benefits to foresters, farmers and ranchers – and of course all of us who depend on them for our food and water.
Close-up photo of a leopard frog on a dried up riverbed in Missouri.
Challenging Times A young Leopard frog confronts a drying stream bed during a drought in the lower central plains of Missouri. © Mark Godfrey/TNC

Beyond Emissions: Resilience, Environmental Justice, and Supporting Communities

The “Build Back Better” legislation presents opportunities beyond addressing emissions. A comprehensive approach that also supports communities, drives jobs and economic growth, and advances environmental justice, is essential.

Congress must address the needs of communities, especially underserved communities who are impacted the worst by climate change and bear a disproportionate burden of pollution. The Civilian Climate Corps and the Clean Energy Technology Accelerator would direct much-needed human and financial resources to improve the resilience of our communities and deploy clean energy where it is needed most. Investments in infrastructure and climate resilience for Native communities also help adapt to climate-related impacts and will focus on treaty and trust obligations. Done right, these investments will help ensure communities that have been left out in the past enjoy the benefits of a clean energy future, including cleaner air, better jobs, and improved mobility.

Efforts to enhance community resilience are wise and cost-effective investments. They should address wildfire risk reduction, coastal and riverine resilience and restoration, and natural infrastructure to improve water quality, address water scarcity and reduce flood risk.

Finally, to ensure communities are not being left behind in the clean energy transition, legislation should include targeted policies to help coal mining and power plant communities diversify economic opportunities and prepare for a clean energy economy. This includes incentives to encourage clean energy development on former mine lands, brownfields and other previously developed land and new clean energy manufacturing jobs in areas that have seen declines in traditional energy sector jobs. These incentives would further support continued economic development and the creation of good-paying jobs.

Photo at dusk of California dunes, three people in background sitting on dune.
Kelso Dunes Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, California © Dave Lauridsen

What’s Next

Together, we haven’t just been waiting for this moment; we’ve been working toward it for years. We need to keep it up to see it through.

We’re urging Congress to pass legislation with these strong climate and nature provisions to improve the lives of people today and in the future as well as demonstrate U.S. leadership on addressing climate change to the world.

You can help by letting your representatives in Congress know you want them to ensure robust climate policies in the “Build Back Better” legislation.

Jason Albritton.

Jason Albritton is Director of Climate & Energy Policy for The Nature Conservancy

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