So… Joe “Coal Baron” Manchin finally came around. After his slow-motion takedown of Biden’s Build Back Better effort, the senator from the plundered state of West Virginia bargained with Majority Leader Schumer to produce the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Just before the Senate’s long summer break, the Democrats are looking ahead to midterm elections that could go very badly. They need to deliver something to people hammered by a poorly managed pandemic, racist violence, the overturning of abortion rights, crises in housing and costs of living, and oh YEAH, the climate emergency. Just because the president hasn’t declared it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. (As I write this, the temperature is hitting 97 degrees in yet another heat wave; Mt. Hood saw 91 degrees.)
The process of putting together legislation, especially a huge bill like this, involves old-fashioned horse trading: “You give me oil and gas leases, I’ll give you $7500 rebates for middle class people who buy EVs” etc. That’s how it worked in the 1950s (CO2 levels were then around 300 ppm) when Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson was kicking ass and making deals, and that’s how it works now.
But that’s not how atmospheric physics works. Carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions just add to what I call “the smothering blanket effect” (not the benign sounding “greenhouse effect”), no matter what else is going on. New oil and gas production will lock in future emissions, and the global atmosphere doesn’t care what U.S. politicians do to “balance” their interests, or “spin” the message. The CO2 number is at 421 ppm now, and going up fast.
But there’s $369 billion earmarked for “climate and energy security”! What’s so wrong with this bill? Read it, as I and many others have, and you’ll see the legislation:
- requires 2 million acres for oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska (lumped together under the designation of “Outer Continental Shelf”);
- does not permit wind or solar energy development on federal land unless the oil and gas leases are allowed;
- includes hundreds of millions for nuclear power and research, hydrogen, and carbon capture schemes; all of these may or may not reduce CO2 emissions, with their own carbon footprints to build and operate.
Worst of all, this bill is tied to a separate deal for what my father used to sarcastically call “greasing the skids” of the permitting process for either fossil fuel or renewable energy projects. This would facilitate corporations getting their permits approved and their money rolling in, whether the project was environmentally just or not. Here in Portland, as we struggle to get Zenith Energy (which has never had a current air quality permit) shut down, we know all too well how making permitting easier goes.
Groups in opposition include: Center for Biological Diversity, Climate Justice Alliance, Food & Water Action, Greenpeace USA, Indigenous Environmental Network, Our Revolution and Sunrise Movement. Read more about that here.
Other environmental and social justice groups are cheering on this legislation. That’s another potentially terrible impact: it could split movements, turn us against each other. There are, of course, some good things in the bill.
Do we want the wealthy to be taxed more? Sure.
Rebates for middle-class homeowners and landlords to insulate homes and switch out methane-burning appliances for electric? Yes, indeed.
Low income neighborhoods getting $3 billion in block grants for community-led programs dealing with air pollution, urban heat islands, and public health during extreme heat events? Damn right, and long overdue.
But not at the cost of additional oil and gas production that harms communities – mostly Indigenous, Black, Brown and low-income – and nature, while locking in climate-killing emissions for decades. That’s a fool’s deal.
“It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction,” observed Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a profoundly flawed piece of legislation. The “poison pills” called out by CBD must be removed. Of course, this bill may go nowhere like Build Back Better did. Senator Sinema may not play along.
We are living in an existential crisis. We cannot lose: life itself is at stake at the negotiating table. We are Extinction Rebellion: we tell the truth. We refuse to accept the unacceptable.
Join us on Tuesday, August 2, noon, at Pioneer Square to demand that President Biden do what he should have done on Inauguration Day: declare a national Climate Emergency and use his executive powers to take serious and immediate action.