After months of negotiations, the House of Representatives (finally!) passed the Build Back Better Act despite opposition from every single Republican member. Next up: on to the Senate and President Biden’s desk — more on that below.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this bill. If passed and implemented, it will be transformative. It represents the United States’ biggest investment in climate action in history, and our biggest investment in social programs since the New Deal.
With over 130 different investments in climate and environmental justice on a scale never before seen in Congress and a slew of social policies, Build Back Better will make life better for people who are struggling to make ends meet by investing in childcare, education, healthcare, elder care and more. This bill is a testament to the intersectional social movements that joined together to put forward this vision and fought to make it possible.
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And — in this time of unprecedented crises of income inequality, racial injustice, climate emergency, and a faltering democracy, the investments that were cut are real losses. How do we celebrate the victories we’ve fought so hard for, while holding the enormity of what is still needed?
The Current Reality
As more and more Americans feel the growing impacts of climate change and scientists continue to ring the alarm bell about the need for urgent action, the policies in this bill put the United States on a path to cutting climate pollution in half by 2030, meet our international climate goals, and advance racial, economic, and environmental justice. It will transform the way we power our homes, buildings, and vehicles, reduce electricity costs, protect our communities from flooding, replace lead pipes poisoning our water, and create millions of good-paying jobs.
As more and more Americans face economic insecurity without a basic social safety net while wealthy special interests who rig the rules get richer, the Build Back Better Act will invest in childcare, pre-K and higher education, support home care for older Americans and people with disabilities, expand Medicare and Medicaid, and more.
Here are just a few of the real-world benefits of Build Back Better:
- 5 million families will gain access to clean water by replacing toxic lead pipes
- 800,000 people who live in public housing will benefit from upgraded living conditions, including lower energy costs and protections from extreme weather
- The Gwich’in people will win protection of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling — a big victory in their fight to protect their way of life
- More than 60,000 buses’ worth of children will breathe cleaner air as we replace diesel school buses with clean electric vehicles
- The average homeowner will find it $7,000 cheaper to install solar on their roof as wind and solar power expand into our communities at more than twice the current speed
- 150,000 workers will get family-sustaining manufacturing jobs to produce wind, solar, and other clean energy goods, and
- 300,000 workers will get good jobs through a Civilian Climate Corps that helps communities clean up pollution and adapt to climate change
People Power Made All the Difference
As we celebrate these victories and confront the reality of the long fight ahead, let’s remember that people power made this possible and people power will be the way we continue to move towards justice.
Broad, intersectional movements put forward the initial vision for this bill before many thought these kinds of policies were possible. Movements joined together across differences to help elect President Biden and progressive champions who advocated for this legislation in Congress and fought to keep it as ambitious as possible. Movements will continue organizing through a final vote to get this bill over the finish line. And movements will continue building power to fight for the crucial policies that were cut.
In the last few months, Sierra Club organizers and volunteers hosted 177 events across the country ranging from press conferences, rallies, lobby meetings, to at-home and virtual action parties. We drove over 30,000 phone calls and 100,000 emails to the White House and our Members of Congress, thousands of social media posts, and called more than 5,000 people in key districts. We have been proud to work alongside a broad coalition of partners who have courageously held hunger strikes and sit-ins, risked arrest, traveled thousands of miles to try to meet with their Senators, and protested on kayaks to highlight the urgency of this moment and the need for transformative action.
Together, we must continue organizing to ensure that this bill is passed, and then fully implemented at the state level so these investments reach the communities they have been promised to. We must reform our democracy and protect the fundamental right to vote, and ensure that our elected officials are accountable to their constituents. Then, we will continue organizing everyday in our communities and at the ballot box to build a world where all of us, whether white, Black or brown, can thrive.
Congress Needs to Catch Up, The American People are Ready to Build Back Better
This bill will shape our economy and society for decades to come, changing the lives of millions of people and generations after us. Passing the Build Back Better Act will move us towards the vision of a more just and livable future, and will open up the door to more transformative policies in the next few years.
And yet — I want to honor and acknowledge that many of us may be feeling the sting of losing key provisions during these last months of negotiations.
Despite overwhelming support from the public (across party lines) and 96% of the Democratic party, special interests and the politicians that listened to them managed to strip vital programs out of the bill with no regard for the will of the people. Some of our elected officials received huge amounts of campaign money from the fossil fuel industry during these negotiations — deeply unethical and undemocratic conflicts of interest that must not be allowed to continue.
Against us are corporations and polluters and the politicians in their pockets — the greedy few who want nothing more than to squeeze as much profit out of our planet and our communities as possible, for as long as they can. That includes every Congressional Republican, who refused to even engage with their colleagues on the possibility of transformational legislation.
But on our side are the majority of the people in our country who, no matter our differences, want a lot of the same things. On our side is a movement of movements — filled with racial justice, union, climate, health equity, and immigrants’ rights allies. On our side are the powerful progressive champions we elected into Congress who held the line again and again to make sure Build Back Better made it through.
On our side is hope, and solidarity, and determination.
The fight is not over.
Now, all eyes are on the Senate to bring this transformative bill across the finish line. We’re counting on President Biden to help deliver the majority in the Senate to enact his historic agenda that he has assured the public will be there. We will soon launch the last leg of this fight to notch a victory worthy of the history books.
We have always known the fight for a Green New Deal would not be an easy one. We knew it would be more than one bill, and we knew it would require action at every level of government. Today we can feel proud at how far we’ve come and allow these victories to fuel us for the fight ahead.
As we fight to secure the wins of this landmark legislation, the challenges we face only highlight the urgent need to reform our democracy so that our elected officials are accountable to us, and so our government reflects the will of the people.
From here, the bill will head through a series of Congressional procedures in the Senate. This includes the Byrd Bath (a rule requiring that provisions included in budget reconciliation, the process through which Build Back Better will be passed, must relate to the federal budget), an amendment process, followed by a floor debate and a final vote. Once the Build Back Better Act has passed the Senate, it will be sent back to the House for a final vote to pass the updated version of the bill with the Senate’s changes. Finally, it will head to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
The timeline on all this is — clearly — subject to change. But Congressional leadership has said they’re hoping to have it signed and sealed in the next few weeks.
Read on to learn more about what’s in this historic bill, and the impact it will have on our climate and our communities:
SWEEPING PACKAGE OF CLEAN ENERGY AND CLEAN TRANSPORTATION TAX INCENTIVES that are a game changer for the clean economy in the United States, and a game changer for climate action at home and abroad. The investment in the 10-year, $300 billion tax incentive package will dramatically expand access to clean electricity like solar, electric vehicles, efficiency and electrification improvements for homes and workplaces, and clean manufacturing, forming the backbone of the Build Back Better Act’s climate action and accounting for a major reduction in carbon emissions nearing our national goals. Turbocharging investments in clean electricity and energy efficiency are key to saving the average household $500 annually in lower energy costs.
BOLD INVESTMENTS IN CLEAN ENERGY MANUFACTURING that would slash industrial pollution, create good manufacturing jobs, and bolster the supply chains we need for a swift transition to 100% clean energy.
ADDITIONAL MAJOR CLIMATE ACTION INVESTMENTS INCLUDE: transportation investments that would expand access to union-built electric vehicles, clean public transit and passenger rail; retrofits of homes and schools to cut pollution and energy costs; a methane emissions reduction program; natural climate solutions that provide protection for communities from heat waves and storms while growing carbon sinks; new investments to slash industrial pollution and boost manufacturing of clean energy goods; and a Civilian Climate Corps that would help communities clean up pollution and adapt to the climate crisis.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE INVESTMENTS including environmental and climate justice grants, nationwide lead service line replacement, electrification of diesel school buses, funding for cleaning up dirty ports and heavy-duty trucks, community investments to close the nature equity gap, funding for pollution monitoring and cleanup, robust support for equitable and sustainable community development, and increased investments for community engagement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
PROTECTS THE COASTAL PLAIN OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE from oil and gas drilling and safeguards the way of life of the Gwich’in people by repealing the 2017 drilling language included in the 2017 Tax Act.
FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES ABROAD AND AT HOME: Based on estimates from the President’s budget, the Act’s repeal of international fossil fuel subsidies included in the package would represent a potential $86.2 billion in revenue over the next decade. Still, the failure to repeal domestic fossil fuel subsidies is a shortcoming that can and must be addressed by Congress.
INVESTMENT IN CHILDREN AND CAREGIVING that would reduce racial inequities in access to opportunity in early childhood within participating states. It guarantees access to voluntary, free preschool programs for all 3- and 4-year-olds in these states, and expands the Child Tax Credit for 2022, which is expected to lift 4 million children above the poverty line. It will help eliminate long standing waitlists for services critical to aging adults, veterans and people with disabilities.
EXPANDING AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE to reduce premiums for more than 9 million Americans by extending the expanded Premium Tax Credit, deliver health care coverage to up to 4 million uninsured people in states that have locked them out of Medicaid, and help older Americans access affordable hearing care by expanding Medicare.
STRENGTHENING THE MIDDLE CLASS by making the “most significant single investment in quality, stable, affordable homes for the country’s lowest-income people in history,” taking another step in addressing college affordability and investing in HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions, cutting taxes for 17 million low-wage workers by extending the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and advancing equity through investments in maternal health, community violence interventions, and nutrition, in addition to better preparing the nation for future pandemics and supply chain disruptions.
(Courtesy Sierra Club/By Morissa Zuckerman)