IRA Is No Climate Justice Bill
By Marianne Comfort, Sisters of Mercy Justice Team member
This summer, many of us were pleased when President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. After months— no, years—of advocacy by a broad array of groups, Congress had finally passed significant investments in the transition to a clean energy future. And at a time when there seemed little to celebrate with legislation, it could be easy to see this as a victory.
But this was no climate justice bill. And so our celebratory mood was muted. Yes, the bill includes $369 billion for climate and renewable energy provisions that are projected to cut U.S. carbon emissions roughly 40% from 2005 levels by 2030. But upon examination, it prioritizes projects over people—a perspective that is counter to Mercy values.
The Climate Justice Alliance names several threats in the bill to communities most harmed by fossil fuel extraction and climate change and also provisions that ignore critical issues. These include:
- funding for unproven technology that could enable continued industrial pollution as long as carbon emissions are “captured”;
- requirements to offer public lands and waters to oil and gas leases before any lease offerings for solar and wind development;
- consumer incentives that are out of reach for lower-income households;
- and prioritization of tax credits for cleaner cars over investments in public transportation.
Most threatening was a commitment, as the price of support for the Inflation Reduction Act by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to introduce a later bill designed to fast-track permitting for energy projects. It has been introduced as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022.While this could speed up approval of electrical transmission lines and other infrastructure required for a renewable energy economy, it comes at the expense of also fast-tracking pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.
These all serve as reminders that the legislative process in the United States can lead to compromises that negotiate away the well-being of some communities for a larger goal, in this case reducing carbon emissions.
Mercy’s recent multi-month-long engagement with Awakening to a New Consciousness, a process of deep listening and reflecting, called us to center peoples most threatened by extractive industries and the extractivist development model. We asked, What does it mean today for Mercy to stand in solidarity with these communities, to address exploitative systems and to be part of the solution to avoid the worst impacts of our climate emergency?
Now faced with this legislative landscape in the United States, at a minimum it means that our advocacy is not done when many people along the Gulf Coast and in Appalachia fear that they were sacrificed in the behind-closed-doors negotiations that resulted in passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Some were outraged that the deal included more oil and gas drilling off their shores, others that it could speed up permitting for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which, if finished, would carry fracked natural gas from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.
We must continue to urge legislators to oppose any bill designed to fast-track pipeline approvals. And we will continue to center our advocacy and our evaluation of legislation in the stories of those most harmed. You can get more information on this advocacy by signing up to become a Mercy justice advocate.