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The Senate finally passed a historic climate bill. Now what?

For decades, it has been virtually impossible to pass major climate legislation through the Senate. That finally changed on Sunday, when Senate Democrats passed their ambitious climate and tax package, a crucial step in a grueling journey to deliver the largest climate investment in U.S. history.

The 755-page piece of legislation, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, cleared the chamber by a vote of 51-50 after nearly 20 hours of debate on the Senate floor, with Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.

For many climate advocates, the bill is far from perfect. While it contains a record $369 billion in new spending to fight global warming and bolster clean energy, it also includes several provisions that would prolong the life of polluting fossil fuel infrastructure — a concession to Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the Senate's most conservative Democrat.

But after months of working to secure Manchin's elusive vote, Senate Democrats presented a united front in support of the measure, which they said would still make a significant dent in the emissions that are dangerously heating the Earth.

“You can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told The Climate 202 on Sunday.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the Senate's most vocal climate hawks, agreed. 

“This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time that the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment,” said Schatz, who fought back tears as he left the Senate floor after the bill's passage. “Now I can look my kids in the eye and say we're really doing something about climate.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the bill would enable the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. That would bring the nation within striking distance of President Biden's goal of cutting emissions at least in half over the next decade.

The House plans to return Friday to pass the package. The measure will then head to the White House for Biden's long-awaited signature.