On Friday, hundreds of environmental and community organizations urged President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to reject provisions that would expand or support fossil fuel projects in the new compromise reconciliation bill that Democrats announced on Wednesday.
In a letter signed by 369 organizations, the groups said that expanding fossil fuels’ grip over the energy sector is unacceptable as the world hurtles toward worse and worse climate crises. They went on to say that Biden, Schumer and Democrats have a mandate not only to reject proposals that are friendly to the fossil fuel industry in the new bill — dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — but also to take further action to wind down fossil fuel exploration in the U.S.
“Oil, gas and coal production are the core drivers of the climate and extinction crises,” the letter reads. “There can be no new fossil fuel leases, exports, or infrastructure if we have any hope of preventing ever-worsening climate crises, catastrophic floods, deadly wildfires, and more — all of which are ripping across the country as we speak. We are out of time.”
The groups call for Biden to reject the Mountain Valley Pipeline and reject any new leasing for fossil fuel projects on public lands. They also join a chorus of voices saying that Biden should immediately declare a climate emergency in order to free up resources and authority for the Biden administration to address the climate crisis.
Letter signers included major climate and progressive organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Our Revolution and Sunrise Movement.
They say that continuing to permit new fossil fuel projects is essentially sacrificing marginalized communities in the name of Big Oil’s profit. This would “further entrench us in a fossil fuel economy for decades to come — and constitutes a violent betrayal of your pledge to combat environmental racism and destruction,” they said.
Activists further said that, while there are some laudable provisions in the new reconciliation bill, its fossil fuel-friendly provisions undermine the purpose of its clean energy proposals.
“The Inflation Reduction Act may be the most Washington can offer right now, but it’s a far cry from what’s actually needed to address the climate crisis,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, in a statement. “The investments in renewables, energy efficiency and Superfund clean-ups will make a difference, but communities and the climate continue to be sacrificed to Sen. [Joe] Manchin’s fossil fuel demands.”
On Wednesday, coal multimillionaire Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) announced that he had reached an agreement with Schumer for a new reconciliation bill that can pass the Senate with a simple majority vote. Democrats touted the bill’s inclusion of $369 billion in spending for climate and energy proposals, which they say will reduce emissions by 40 percent of 2005 levels by 2030; this would fall short of Biden’s goal of reducing emissions by half by the end of the decade, but still reduce more emissions than the U.S.’s current path.
However, buried in the over 700-page bill are what the Center for Biological Diversity called “poison pills” that favor the fossil fuel industry — including a provision that locks the government into permitting new drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico and off of the coast of Alaska for the next 10 years.
A provision likely added to appease Manchin, the bill proposes forcing the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres offshore annually any year it wants to approve new wind and solar power projects on federal land or water for the next decade. Climate advocates say that this amount of leasing would continue business as usual for the fossil fuel industry, making essentially no attempt to draw down oil and gas exploration at all.
Because of these Big Oil-friendly proposals, the fossil fuel industry isn’t opposed to the bill, as it was with last year’s Build Back Better Act. In fact, quite the opposite — Politico reported on Thursday that the bill has “easter eggs” that “delight” the oil and gas industry, saying that it contains plenty of items that would benefit oil corporations, some of which posted record profits on Friday.
These provisions have been harshly criticized by climate advocates, who were furious over the fossil fuel provisions buried in what is marketed as a climate bill.
“This is a climate suicide pact,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “It’s self-defeating to handcuff renewable energy development to massive new oil and gas extraction. The new leasing required in this bill will fan the flames of the climate disasters torching our country, and it’s a slap in the face to the communities fighting to protect themselves from filthy fossil fuels.”