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Indigenous and other environmental groups gather outside the White House on the third day of "People vs. Fossil Fuels" protests in Washington, D.C., on October 13, 2021. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

House Progressives, Climate Coalition Demand End to 'Fossil Fuel Handouts'

Opposition to Build Back Better Act provisions that would benefit polluters comes amid reporting that Senate Democrats plan to delay a vote on the package until 2022.

Jessica Corbett

Progressives in the U.S. House of Representatives and a coalition of 140 advocacy groups this week ramped up pressure on Senate Democrats to serve people and the planet, not polluters, with the climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act.

"Congress members, senators, and the president are negotiating with people's lives."

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) statement and coalition's letter came amid reports that Senate Democrats may delay a vote on the House-approved budget reconciliation package until next year so they can focus on voting rights legislation.

The CPC's Wednesday statement—attributed to six House Democrats including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the nearly 100-member caucus—expressed alarm about industry-led efforts to undercut the bill's policies to reduce planet-heating emissions and emphasized progressives' opposition to "fossil fuel handouts."

"The Build Back Better Act has rightfully been touted as the largest-ever federal investment in climate action," the CPC members said. "Today, we urge the Senate to resist the fossil fuel industry's efforts to remove basic guardrails on the tax credits for carbon sequestration."

As the statement explained:

The House-passed version of Build Back Better requires fossil fuel emitting plants to store 75% or more of their carbon pollution—an eminently reasonable requirement, as the fossil fuel industry itself touts carbon capture's ability to achieve a 90% sequestration rate. But now, special interest groups are pushing our Senate colleagues to remove the requirement altogether, and provide a no-strings-attached taxpayer handout to the biggest polluters.

For Congress to pass such a policy—especially as the South and Midwest are still recovering from the latest climate change fueled disaster—would be an insult to basic tax fairness and to every member of our communities demanding environmental justice. It's simple: A bill that aims to tackle climate change and rapidly decarbonize our economy cannot include gifts for polluters.

Highlighting President Joe Biden's pledge to halve U.S. emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, the CPC said that "in order to meet that mandate, our colleagues must oppose any efforts to remove the limited guardrails that currently exist on carbon sequestration subsidies and protect our national effort to rapidly transition to solar, wind, and other renewable energies."

While House progressives argued that the bill's promise to address the climate emergency "must not be weakened," the advocacy group coalition went a step further in a Tuesday letter to three top senators—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

"We call on you to remove fossil fuel subsidies and... incentives for the development of harmful energy sources and technologies," says the letter, initiated by 11 groups that belong to United Frontline Table.

Specifically, the coalition is calling for the removal of:

  • Nuclear power production tax credits (Section 136108 of H.R. 5376);
  • Biofuels and biomass power plant tax credits, funding for biofuels development, and the Biofuels Infrastructure Program (Sections 12006, 30109, 136101, 136101, and 136202);
  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) tax credits, including Section 45Q CCS tax credits for coal, fracked gas production, and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects (Section 136106);
  • Hydrogen power production tax credits (Section 136204); and
  • Waste-to-energy tax credit for the production of energy from municipal solid waste (Section 136101).

"By investing in fossil fuels and these false solutions and technologies that perpetrate continued pollution, environmental justice inequities, and public health harms in communities," the letter warns, "the Build Back Better Act falls short on the scale of investments needed to transition away from fossil fuels towards a renewable and regenerative economy."

That warning was echoed by representatives for groups backing the letter.

"These incentives in Build Back Better are giveaways to the polluting industries that got us into this mess," said Adrien Salazar, policy director of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. "Congress members, senators, and the president are negotiating with people's lives."

"Investing in dirty energy would lock in years of continued emissions and climate delay that harms Indigenous, Black, and people of color communities the most," Salazar said. "A Build Back Better Act with billions of dollars for industries that want to keep polluting cannot reasonably be called a climate bill. Senators must remove dirty energy from this bill and direct funds to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy."

Bineshi Albert, co-executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, noted that "President Biden and members of Congress are touting the Build Back Better Act as a potentially historic investment to confront the climate crisis."

Reiterating the coalition's critique of "handouts to fossil fuels and dirty energy technologies that harm already overburdened and historically harmed communities," Albert asserted that "Congress and the president should not throw frontline communities living with fossil fuel extraction and climate crisis under the bus to get this bill across the finish line."

"Congress and the president should not throw frontline communities living with fossil fuel extraction and climate crisis under the bus to get this bill across the finish line."

If and when the $1.75 trillion social infrastructure and climate package does reach Biden's desk will be determined by Senate Democrats, who now may not vote on the legislation until March, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing a pair of unnamed congressional sources.

According to NBC, "The decision to try again next year is based on simple math—Schumer doesn't have the 50 votes needed to pass the legislation thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who remains a holdout."

The Sunrise Movement, which last week blasted efforts by Manchin and the fossil fuel industry to water down the bill, responded with outrage to reports of a delayed Senate vote.

"This is shameful," said Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash. "After a year of climate disasters killing hundreds of people through brutal storms, tornadoes, and fatal heatwaves, indefinitely postponing a vote on Build Back Better could mean a death sentence for millions."

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