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Editorial: Federal legislation represents bold action to address global warming – The Virginian-Pilot

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, the most substantive piece of climate legislation adopted by Congress in generations. While it does not go as far as activists wanted, it represents a landmark achievement in the effort to protect our communities for future generations.

That is especially consequential for Hampton Roads and the commonwealth, where rising seas threaten homes, businesses and critical infrastructure. While there is plenty more that must be done, taking meaningful action should inspire hope we may yet avoid some of the worst effects expected to result from a changing climate.

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As with every reconciliation bill passed by Congress, lawmakers packed a lot into the Inflation Reduction Act — from health care measures to changes in tax policy. The bill will cap seniors’ prescription drug costs and halt insurance premium increases for low-income Americans, and it will institute a minimum tax for large corporations and expand funding for the Internal Revenue Service, among other provisions.

However, the centerpiece of the legislation is focused on climate change, and what Congress passed was substantial.

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Begin with the largest investment in climate-related action — $370 billion — in American history, money that will help the United States reduce harmful greenhouse emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030. While that’s short of the 50% cut promised by the Biden administration, it is a significant step.

The law intends to achieve that through a bevy of programs, initiatives and incentives. It will make clean energy tax credits more readily available, encourage the purchase of electric vehicles and the adoption of high-efficiency electric technology (such as HVAC systems) for homes and businesses, facilitate the manufacturing of equipment (batteries, solar and wind tech), and help farmers transition to sustainable practices that reduce emissions.

Analysis suggests the bill will create 1 million new jobs in clean energy, which is exciting. It will be necessary to keep tabs on that figure, but it speaks to the long-standing contention that transitioning to a clean-energy economy need not result in economic harm. It should create new opportunities for more American workers.

All of that has particular resonance in Hampton Roads, among the areas most threatened by rising seas. While it would be better if the legislation included more money for resilience improvements sorely needed here, the potential for this region is undeniable.

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The manufacturing incentives, for instance, should help with projects such as Dominion’s offshore wind farm. The clean energy those turbines will produce will be beneficial, of course, but locating the construction of windmill blades and other components here will help transform our economy.

The legislation includes $3 billion to reduce air pollution in American ports, which could affect the Port of Virginia, and some $315 million for air monitoring in low-income communities with high levels of pollution. (The neighborhoods in Newport News and Norfolk affected by coal dust are obvious candidates for funding.)

Tax credits for installing solar panels, rebates for buying electric vehicles, incentives for efficiency upgrades and the prospect of lower energy bills should benefit millions of American families. And the collective reduction in greenhouse emissions projected to result will make for a more sustainable and healthier environment.

There are plenty of detractors. Republicans voted en masse against the bill, arguing the “Inflation Reduction Act” won’t reduce inflation and represents an unreasonable burden for Americans struggling to pay their bills.

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But we know that climate action cannot wait — not when temperatures are steadily warming, seas are steadily rising, extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and communities, such as those in Hampton Roads, face an uncertain future.

This law represents hope — hope that we won’t simply stand by and watch the worst unfold, doing nothing as floods and fires ravage our communities.

The United States cannot expect to remain a global leader if it refuses to confront the greatest threat facing both the nation and the world. Through this legislation, Washington has accomplished something bold. That is worth celebrating.

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