In a ceremonial signing joined by environmental leaders, President Biden once again endorsed the Inflation Reduction Act — the biggest climate investment in U.S. history.

“Too often we confuse setbacks with defeat,” President Biden said, commenting on the legislation’s long journey to his desk. “Making progress in this country, as big and complicated as ours, clearly, is not easy. It's never been easy. But with unwavering conviction, commitment and patience, progress does come.”

President Joe Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act while Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Jim Clyburn look on
President Joe Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act while Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Jim Clyburn look on. Credit: Getty

Climate activists have worked for decades to get federal climate legislation passed. Here are five notable near-misses over the past 25 years that led to today's success. 

1997: The world takes a bold step forward with the Kyoto Protocol — the first international treaty with legally binding obligations to limit emissions. While the U.S. signs on, the Senate refuses to ratify the treaty and a few years later, President George W. Bush announces that the U.S. will not be joining. 

2003: John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduce the Climate Stewardship Act. The bill would have instituted a cap-and-trade program to cut emissions from major climate polluting sectors of the economy including transportation and power production. This bipartisan effort puts the spotlight on climate change in Congress, but doesn't get enough votes to pass.

2009: The Waxman-Markey bill revives hope for climate action. It would have been the first time the government took sweeping action across the economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and lower the cost of renewable energy. It passed the House (a big step!) but died in the Senate.

2021: After more than a decade of federal inaction, climate is back on the agenda. The Build Back Better bill includes hundreds of billions of dollars for clean energy and climate programs. The bill passes the House, but hits rough water in the Senate. In December, pundits and some congressional insiders declare the effort dead.

2022: In mid-July, small group of Senators quietly resurrect the climate negotiations from the Build Back Better bill. But their plan falls apart before it reaches the Senate. There is near universal agreement that a climate deal will not come together. EDF urges everyone involved to not give up and keep negotiating.

Success at last: On August 7, in a near-miraculous turnaround, the Senate passes the Inflation Reduction Act with climate provisions intact. Five days after that, the House follows, and President Biden swiftly signs the bill into law. It is a massive step in the right direction. The act will give a major boost to renewable energy, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, slash potent methane pollution from oil and gas operations and cut emissions from the agricultural sector. And it will do all this while creating more than 9 million jobs and making an unprecedented investment toward environmental justice.

“It’s a new day in the fight against climate change,” says EDF President, Fred Krupp. “Our next job is to help ensure that the $369 billion is spent strategically, efficiently and equitably."