Yesterday, Sen. Manchin released the text of his Inflation Reduction Act-affiliated dirty deal.
The bill, drafted with the American Petroleum Institute, is based on a false narrative that weakening bedrock environmental laws (namely the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act) under the guise of “permitting reform” is necessary to fast-track clean energy projects. In reality, the deal simply expands fossil fuel production to retain political power for Big Oil, while attempting to silence the voices of communities who have been disproportionately impacted by extractive industries. A WELC fact sheet regarding NEPA and the Inflation Reduction Act is available here.
“Successful climate action demands that we embrace and align two key objectives: the build-out of clean, renewable energy and the imperative to deliver on environmental justice for frontline and Indigenous communities,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Those objectives are captured in calls for a just and equitable transition and passage of the Environmental Justice for All Act – not the dirty deal hammered out behind closed doors by Sen. Manchin that proposes false solutions to the climate crisis.”
True solutions to speed a just and equitable transition would invest in agency staffing and training (resource: hearing discussing NEPA reform needs) to leverage the power of bedrock environmental laws to open new doors to a thriving, just, and equitable renewable energy future. This would better ensure that bedrock laws serve as a tool to foster reasoned and informed action. As MIT researchers concluded earlier this year, a more inclusive and meaningful decision-making process can save time and money, address community-based concerns over project design and siting, and build community buy-in (versus opposition) for renewable energy and transmission projects.
These realities run against the grain of Beltway conventional wisdom. Yet what the Beltway conventional wisdom conveniently ignores is the fact that the reasons for permitting delay (e.g., underfunding, changes in project proposals, abandonment of projects by applicants, and public opposition) have little to do with NEPA implementation. In fact, the vast majority of federal actions subject to NEPA review are evaluated through an expedited analysis. Less than 1% of federal actions require a more time-consuming environmental impact statement. In terms of legal challenges, less than 1% of NEPA actions result in litigation. Importantly, studies have shown that expediting NEPA review and limiting public involvement lead to inadequate, environmentally harmful decisions and a higher likelihood of litigation.
Sen. Manchin’s dirty deal attacks not just NEPA, but also the Clean Water Act. Section 401 of the Clean Water Act provides Tribal and state governments with an important voice in federal permitting processes. Today’s Clean Water Act allows states and Tribes to review and condition, or even halt, fossil fuel projects to ensure compliance with their laws designed to protect water, wildlife, and human health. Manchin’s dirty deal erodes this crucial state and Tribal authority, placing communities at greater risk, and shifting power toward project developers.
“Sen. Manchin’s dirty deal is a misguided wreck,” concluded Schlenker-Goodrich. “To open new doors to a thriving, just, and equitable renewable energy future, we urge Congress to support a fair and meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders and to pass the Environmental Justice for All Act. We simply cannot let ourselves be tied to outdated ideas, advanced by fossil fuel interests, that the systematic sabotage of crucial bedrock environmental safeguards is a solution. These reckless ideas will merely perpetuate the very problems that underlie the climate crisis we are now living through.”