Texas power lines

High voltage transmission towers are seen in Houston on February 21, 2021, in the wake of a deadly winter storm that left millions of Texans without power. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Amid Fight Over Manchin Deal, Climate Justice Groups Offer Roadmap for Green Infrastructure

"We must reject the false choice between accelerating clean energy transmission and ensuring communities are included in the process," said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice.

As U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin fights to force through fossil fuel-friendly permitting legislation, nine green groups on Thursday offered a roadmap for boosting clean energy infrastructure while also respecting impacted communities.

"We need a clean energy revolution shaped by justice and equity."

"We must reject the false choice between accelerating clean energy transmission and ensuring communities are included in the process," declared Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, one of the groups behind the effort. "These principles outline how we can and must do both to build an equitable clean energy future."

The coalition sent its roadmap--entitled Principles for Accelerating Clean Energy Deployment Through a Transmission Build-Out in an Equitable Clean Energy Future--and a related letter to President Joe Biden, who on Thursday reiterated his support for Manchin's (D-W.Va.) Building American Energy Security Act of 2022.

The president's latest "disgraceful betrayal of environmental justice promises," as one critic put it, came ahead of an expected Senate vote on Manchin's bill as an amendment to the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

Among other controversial changes to how the U.S. government handles all energy projects, Manchin's "dirty deal" would expand the permitting authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for transmission line projects that are deemed in the national interest.

The coalition's letter recognizes the need for dramatically increasing transmission infrastructure to meet climate goals--citing estimates that the U.S. needs to double or even triple the current built-out rate--but also stresses the importance of "ensuring there are opportunities for meaningful and timely input" from impacted communities.

As the letter states:

In combination with the significant transmission development opportunities provided through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA), these transmission principles will help facilitate the needed growth of interstate transmission to support a 100% clean electricity grid while protecting communities' health and the environment.

Many recent legislative proposals containing transmission reform, including the Building American Energy Security Act of 2022, have failed to live up to these principles. Perhaps most importantly, the process laid out in these proposals lacked adequate and meaningful engagement with key stakeholders and ignored the concerns of those who would be directly impacted by energy infrastructure development. It is essential we build trust with the communities most impacted. We must learn from these lessons as we embark on the greatest infrastructure build-out in nearly a century thanks to the historic investments in the IRA and IIJA. Now more than ever, we need strong environmental review and public engagement processes to avoid harming communities while effectively speeding up development of much-needed infrastructure to enable a rapid clean energy transition.

The roadmap's administrative and legislative proposals include new FERC rules for transmission planning, the establishment of environmental justice liaisons, and changes to federal laws including the Federal Power Act and Natural Gas Act.

"We need a clean energy revolution shaped by justice and equity," said Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, another coalition member. "We have done the work of ensuring that clean energy projects and permitting processes are funded through the Inflation Reduction Act. These principles will help deliver a transmission system that lives up to our ideals."

The other organizations that helped craft the principles are the Center for American Progress, Environmental Defense Fund, League of Conservation Voters, National Hispanic Medical Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

While presenting "ideas to address challenges related to transmission siting, cost allocation, and planning," the coalition emphasized that "this set of principles is not meant to be considered alongside any proposal related to rolling back environmental permitting or boosting fossil fuel development at communities' expense."

"In addition to this transmission-focused set of recommendations, we strongly support passage of the Environmental Justice for All Act, which is essential legislation to ensure that the clean energy transition centers, protects, and supports communities that have endured decades of fossil fuel pollution," the groups said.

The Environmental Justice for All Act (S. 872/H.R. 2021) was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who has spearheaded progressive opposition to Manchin's bill in the lower chamber.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) struck a deal with Manchin behind closed doors earlier this year to push through permitting reforms if the West Virginia Democrat voted for the IRA, progressives in Congress have joined with people on the frontlines of the climate emergency for months to defeat the dirty deal.

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