As a U.S. House panel held a hearing Thursday on clean energy legislation introduced earlier this month by key Democrats, more than 300 environmental and justice organizations sent a letter to Congress raising alarm about the role of "false solutions" including fossil fuels, biomass, and nuclear power in the proposal.
"Sacrificing the very definition of 'clean' in order to achieve 100% clean energy is self-defeating."
The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation's (CLEAN) Future Act is being spearheaded by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and Energy Subcommittee Chair Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.).
According the advocacy groups' letter (pdf), "The CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512) is a prime example of the type of half-measure we must avoid."
Specifically, they assert that the legislation's nationwide Clean Electricity Standard (CES), which would require all retail electricity suppliers to obtain 100% clean power by 2035, "should rigorously define clean energy to include proven solutions like wind, solar, storage, and efficiency—and exclude all fossil fuels and other false solutions."
"Sacrificing the very definition of 'clean' in order to achieve 100% clean energy is self-defeating," says the letter, which furthers warns that the bill "contradicts itself" by including "encouraging environmental justice provisions that would benefit communities disproportionately exposed to pollution and climate impacts," but also pushing policies "that do not stop emissions or other pollution at their source."
Congress must push for REAL solutions. pic.twitter.com/1MwzknPdtR
— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@foe_us) March 18, 2021
Pallone and the other sponsors made clear when unveiling the legislation that they believe overhauling the U.S. energy system is essential. He said the bill's introduction "promises that we will not stand idly by as the rest of the world transitions to clean economies and our workers get left behind, and that we will not watch from the sidelines as the climate crisis wreaks havoc on Americans' health and homes."
"This bill... fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and burning fossil fuels as soon as possible."
—Mitch Jones, Food & Water Watch
In the words of Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, "While this bill has been marginally improved, it fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and burning fossil fuels as soon as possible."
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The letter—whose signatories include Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity, several Our Revolution and 350.org chapters, and scores of other organizations—argues that fossil fuels, biomass, and nuclear power are not clean energy, "carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not a climate solution," and "false solutions do not align with the principles of environmental justice."
Today we're proud to join 300+ groups calling out concerns with @FrankPallone’s #CLEANFuture Act – a bill that would double down on environmental racism and our dependence on fossil fuels. Congress must push for real solutions! https://t.co/TeKGNtOB2G pic.twitter.com/8yMpLUmwqM
— Food & Water Watch (@foodandwater) March 18, 2021
Highlighting the impacts that coal, oil, and gas production have on the health of nearby communities as well as the climate, the letter says that "the idea that any fossil fuels should qualify under a CES even on the basis of 'partial credits' is an astounding concession that would subsidize existing fracked gas infrastructure and slow the deployment of cleaner and cheaper renewables."
"Burning biomass is uniquely dangerous to both the climate and public health," the letter continues, noting that "biomass power plants and garbage incinerators emit more carbon dioxide and harmful air pollutants per unit of energy than coal plants, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and particulate matter, the leading cause of air pollution-related deaths in the country."
"The fuel chain for nuclear power begins with mining, milling, and enriching uranium, all of which are carbon-intensive processes that generate vast amounts of radioactive and toxic wastes," the groups add. "As a consequence, the industry is rooted in environmental injustice and human rights violations."
As for CCS, the groups point out environmental, health, and safety risks, and warn that "technological carbon capture applied to high-emitting sources like petrochemical or fossil fuel power plants acts as a license to continuing polluting."
Rep @FrankPallone’s #CLEANFuture Act is being touted as an equitable climate solution. In reality, it relies on false climate solutions that would continue to turn BIPOC & poor communities into sacrifice zones.https://t.co/fyyn1yJaTv
— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@foe_us) March 18, 2021
The letter declares that "increasing the use of false solutions increases environmental racism, undercutting the environmental justice proposals in the current version of the CLEAN Future Act and rendering them specious."
"Environmental justice must not be viewed as or reduced to a theory or political talking point," the groups emphasize. "It is a set of living principles that must be practiced in an effort to dismantle years and decades of systemic racism, dehumanization, extraction, and the rendering of Black, brown, Indigenous, and poor communities into sacrifice zones."
"As we look to combat the climate crisis, it will be crucial to resist the disingenuous efforts of polluters to co-opt clean energy," they conclude. "Allowing dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy under a CES would prolong the existence of sacrifice zones around dirty energy investments and delay the transition to a system of 100% truly clean energy."
The pressure on Democrats to clean up the bill comes as President Joe Biden is planning to host a climate summit next month and hundreds of advocacy groups from across the globe are pushing his administration to commit the United States to its "fair share" of climate action, including by ending subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.