The Decade of False Solutions.
Let us be frank. As communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and fossil fuel extraction, our situation is dire. While we experience unparalleled disaster in the form of floods, fires, droughts, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Peoples and state-sanctioned violence against Indigenous and Black communities, the crisis at the so-called border, and other results of climate chaos, we know U.S. elected leadership is in the position to redirect course on behalf of Mother Earth and future generations. The truth is, Congress promised our communities they would work to solve the climate crisis and environmental justice once we elected them into office, but instead, we see them fighting to fund fossil fuels and false promises masquerading as climate solutions to the tune of billions of dollars. Rather than solving climate change Congress is exacerbating it.
Over the course of positive engagement over the last several months, we asked Congress – and received many assurances – that the provisions, technologies, and projects in the Bipartisan Infrastructure package and the Build Back Better Act (the reconciliation package) will support Indigenous, Black, Brown, Asian and Pacific Islanders, communities of color, low income, migrant, and frontline communities to address environmental justice. While we are happy to claim our wins (which we see as a testament to the power of frontline intervention in federal policy), it is important to also name what is missing and what is harmful in these packages. Specifically, we demanded Congress oppose false “clean energy” solutions in the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), include set-asides for frontline communities, and include both Justice40 and climate standards in the Build Back Better Act. Unfortunately, these important requests and demands were undermined through a political process intentionally designed to silence the voices of impacted communities while maintaining the status quo.
Congress claims these packages will be historical provisions for climate action and environmental justice – but we know better. While we have fought hard for measures including increased care, social safeguards, affordable housing, building upgrades, public transit, and paid sick leave, there are many components of these two packages that will deepen injustices, entrench climate impacts, displace families, upend local economies, and deadlock us into a decade of false solutions. We cannot be complicit by letting it proceed without challenge. It is imperative we make clear our position while explaining the environmental and community harm as well as the human rights impacts these legislative measures will perpetrate.
How the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package and Build Back Better Act Conflict with Environmental Justice Principles
The Justice40 pledge will not be met in the infrastructure packages. Frontline communities were promised 40% of funding to be earmarked for projects to build safer and stronger communities in order to confront the climate emergency. We already see a structure being set up that would allow for the funding to be used as “benefits” and not direct funding. These so-called benefits could take the form of harmful programs and some that should have happened anyway. Further, there is a mapping tool being built that replicates old colonial mapping systems to differentiate whether a community will fall under their criteria or not.
While there are set-asides for Tribes, they are inadequate and absent in a robust recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and assurances for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The federal government is obligated through laws, trust responsibilities, treaties and other policies to ensure that funding under Justice40 and other federal programs to Indigenous nations is more than adequate to address significant disparities resulting from colonization.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is designed to ensure that agencies and departments consider the significant environmental consequences of their proposed actions and inform the public about decision-making. However, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill includes language to suppress public input, shorten permitting processes to determine how a project will impact a community, shrink consideration of alternative approaches, and create large exclusions for multiple categories of projects.
Energy and Water
Fossil fuel subsidies are included in both packages. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill has $25 billion slated for new fossil fuel subsidies. In addition, the Build Back Better Act also includes at least $15 billion. This does not even include the subsidies for fake “clean” energy in the CEPP. Ramping up fossil fuel development locks us into decades of extractivism, violence and injustice.
Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas export terminal is funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package and oil and gas development in The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is expanded.
The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) in the Build Back Better Act provides incentive payments and does not penalize utility corporations for the generation of electricity from fossil fuels and false solutions. This includes: fossil gas with and without carbon capture and storage and other fossil-based technologies; waste incineration and other combustion-based technologies; bioenergy including biomass, biofuels, factory farm gas, landfill gas, and wood pellets; hydrogen; nuclear; and new, large-scale and ecosystem-altering hydropower, and all market-based accounting systems like offsets. Earlier this year, over 700 groups endorsed a letter to fight for distributed renewable energy for frontline communities. We were largely ignored. Instead, the CEPP is being touted as the flagship program for climate action. We cannot keep providing billions to these industries and pretend it is a win for climate justice. This false “clean” energy will increase the pollution burden on Indigenous, Black, POC and frontline communities. Instead of funding these false solutions, the funding should be allocated to distributed renewable energy for wind and solar with 40 percent clearly set aside for frontline communities.
Lead service line replacement is earmarked at $15 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, which would only address approximately 25 percent of lead service lines and resign multiple generations to compromised health. The House has included an additional $30 billion for lead pipes replacement in their version of the budget, however no clear commitment has come out of the Senate, making the total amount of funds for lead pipes replacement uncertain. Billions more are needed to ensure that Indigenous, low-income communities and communities of color have access to safe drinking water and sewage line installation.
False solutions are funded in both packages. Some as direct funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and Build Back Better Act and other funding through the CEPP in the Build Back Better Act. This is a short list of just some of the false solutions we oppose in the packages:
- Carbon capture in all of its forms
- CO2 “utilization products” for plastics
- 45Q tax credit for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) expanded in the Build Back Better Act until 2032
- $1.9 billion in loan guarantees for carbon capture pipelines in the BIF
- Direct air capture
- Geoengineering technologies
- Cap and trade/offsets/carbon tax/carbon pricing
- Nuclear energy
- Landfill gas
- Climate smart agriculture
- Agriculture and soils offsets
- Liquified natural gas
- Fossil fuel heat waste
- Hydrogen and hydrogen hubs
- Fossil hydrogen is given a rebate in the Build Back Better Act and considered “carbon neutral”
- “Clean” coal and coal waste
- Chemical recycling is burning plastic incinerators funded in the BIF
- Carbon taxes have been proposed to fund the Build Back Better Act
- Carbon pricing has been proposed (and while everyone has been distracted a cap and trade program for HFCs was passed outside of the infrastructure packages to be administered through the EPA)
Congress is demonstrating what happens when frontline and impacted communities are not centered in federal policy. Life-saving priorities are watered down or completely abandoned through the process, while greedy and harmful corporations come out on top. The truth is, we learned that many in Congress are not fully invested in frontline communities or solving the climate emergency, even though they say they are. This is why it is vital we continue engaging and pushing Congress to remain accountable to the promises they made. We know the true power lies with the people. Now is the moment to stand on the right side of history, on behalf of Mother Earth and future generations. Rather than pretend this legislation does not perpetuate injustices to Indigenous, Black, and frontline communities and exacerbate the climate crisis, we will continue to stand with frontline struggles and uplift principles of environmental and economic justice. And we will continue to demand Congress do the same.
Indigenous Environmental Network
Climate Justice Alliance
Grassroots Global Justice