Climate activists protest in Washington, D.C.

Young climate activists stage a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House on April 22, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

From 'Poison Pills' to 'Transformative' Funding, Climate Groups Grapple With Manchin Deal

"Is it enough? No," wrote one campaigner. "Does it have handouts we'll have to fight against? Yes. But we are on far stronger footing with this bill than without it."

More than 700 pages of legislative text negotiated principally by Sen. Joe Manchin--one of the fossil fuel industry's closest allies in Congress--are bound to contain provisions that are appalling to climate advocates and communities on the frontlines of the planetary emergency.

That is certainly the case with the newly revealed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which green groups characterized as a mixture of potentially"transformative investments" in renewable energy and alarming giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, the primary driver of the climate crisis. The combination has left climate groups grappling with whether the good outweighs the bad--a question with massive implications for the planet.

"More oil and gas leasing is completely incompatible with maintaining a livable planet, so we're forced to fight this."

After combing through the 725-page bill, which Manchin announced late Wednesday with the endorsements of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and President Joe Biden, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) specifically highlighted two worrisome sections buried toward the end of the legislation, the product of months of talks between Manchin and top Democrats.

Those sections--50264 and 50265--mandate oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska and bar the federal government from authorizing new wind or solar energy development "unless an onshore [oil and gas] lease sale has been held during the 120-day period ending on the date of the issuance of the right-of-way for wind or solar."

CBD stressed that section 50265 would "require the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres of public lands and 60 million acres of offshore waters for oil and gas leasing each year for a decade as a prerequisite to installing any new solar or wind energy."

Brett Hartl, CBD's government affairs director, warned Thursday that those "poison pills" risk canceling out the upsides of the measure, including the legislation's tens of billions of dollars in proposed green energy investments.

"This is a climate suicide pact," said Hartl. "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."

"More oil and gas leasing is completely incompatible with maintaining a livable planet, so we're forced to fight this," Hartl continued. "This deal is unacceptable. If it passes, we'll fight every single lease the Interior Department tries to approve. Our climate and the health of our communities depend on it."

Others voiced similar concerns. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action, said in a statement late Wednesday that "after dragging his feet for more than a year, Senator Manchin announced an agreement that won't solve the crisis, and may make it worse."

"The few details released this evening suggest this deal will prop up fossil fuels and promote the various false climate solutions beloved by industry," said Hauter, an apparent reference to the bill's carbon capture provisions.

"This so-called deal forced by Senator Manchin is what we would expect when Congress is so closely divided and friends and beneficiaries of the fossil fuel industry have effective control over 'climate' policy," Hauter added. "It proves we need to elect more climate champions so that we can pass the policies actually needed to confront the crisis we all face. Until then, we should not accept deals that strengthen the oil and gas industry to the detriment of us all."

To Hauter and Hartl, the deal announced Wednesday is a non-starter.

But the release of the compromise text is forcing climate groups and other progressives to grapple with the difficult political dynamics in Congress and decide whether to support legislation that--while laden with fossil fuel giveaways--would also make historic investments in renewable energy, a goal environmentalists have been working toward for decades.

In total, the bill includes $369 billion of climate and energy spending over ten years.

Schumer's office claims that the legislation, if passed, would put the U.S. on a path toward cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030--short of Biden's goal of bringing emissions down to 50% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

"The system is rigged when one man, who profits off of fossil fuels, can hold lifesaving climate legislation hostage," the youth-led Sunrise Movement wrote in response to the deal. "But if 50 Senators are actually committed to voting for a package that reduces emissions by 40% by 2030, Congress must pass it immediately."

Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was more enthusiastic about the legislation, calling it a "breakthrough" that "gives us much-needed hope."

"With communities reeling from extreme heat, record drought, and wildfires right now, this announcement is more than welcome news. It's a relief. Science and justice must be at the forefront of the transition to clean energy," said Kreilick. "Now let's get legislation passed as soon as possible and signed into law."

In a newsletter post shortly after the Manchin-Schumer deal went public, The Intercept's Ryan Grim ran through some of the trade-offs and political considerations that he believes climate advocates--and everyone who cares about securing a livable planet--should take into account when assessing the legislation.

Grim noted that Democrats' proposal has the potential to unlock "trillions in private capital, which is waiting on the sidelines for the types of subsidies, credits, and guarantees this bill will include." He continued:

Climate hawks will criticize the bill for its "energy neutral" approach--in other words, the kinds of subsidies made available for clean energy are supposed to be available to projects that clean up dirty energy too, and cleaning coal is seen by many worse than a filthy pipe dream, but as a ruse actively deployed to stall the transition to clean, renewable energy. I'd say a few things to that:

One, looking at the reality of our energy infrastructure, fossil fuels are going to be with us for a very long time. Reducing and/or sequestering their carbon emissions during the transition is essential. I don't like that fact, but it's the reality we're dealt. If this money can spark some exponential technological development in that direction, we'll all be better off.

And two, if all that fails, and the carbon tech stuff is all fluff, subsidizing it was worth the payoff to Manchin to get the clean energy money, because there was no other way at this point, and if Republicans take Congress next term, there's no telling when the window might open again.

And three, it seems like Manchin extracted concessions that could make permitting future fossil fuel projects easier. That's bad. But those are still fights to be had in the future, against a win today.

Those concessions include an agreement by Schumer and Biden to support separate legislation to reform federal permitting processes, a move that could pave the way for dirty energy projects such as the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline, which runs through Manchin's home state.

Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, argued Wednesday that it's possible to criticize--and fight back against--the agreement's harmful components while also celebrating its investments in renewable energy manufacturing, electric vehicles, and methane reduction.

"Is it enough? No," Henn wrote on Twitter. "Does it have handouts we'll have to fight against? Yes. But we are on far stronger footing with this bill than without it."

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