By Lora Lucero, Progressive Democrats of America – Central New Mexico and Anni Hanna, NM Climate Justice

This letter is provided as opinion/commentary from the author.
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This story also appeared in Commentary

There was a mixture of relief and resignation when the so-called Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) passed the Senate on August 7. Many people, organizations and environmental justice groups worked for years to finally get the IRA over the finish line.  

With President Biden signing the IRA into law, Americans can expect many benefits, including: caps on out-of-pocket drug costs; lower energy bills; historic climate investments which should reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030; more than $60 billion invested for new domestic clean manufacturing jobs; cleaning up pollution and taking steps to reduce environmental injustice with $60 billion for environmental justice; and closing tax loopholes used by the very wealthy. The IRA didn’t include everything climate activists wanted but many of us knew that failure to pass significant reforms was not an option leading up to the COP27 international climate conference in Egypt this November. 

The Senate Democrats secured the final vote for passage of the IRA from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who had been holding out for months, only after a “side deal” was reached between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. What is Senator Manchin proposing in this side deal which will come up for a vote in the next few weeks?

Manchin’s proposal fast tracks development of fossil fuel projects by weakening the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA), and shortening opportunities for public comment. NEPA is a bedrock environmental law that helps ensure federal agencies fully assess the effects of proposed actions on people and the environment.

The proposal also requires the President to prioritize a list of critical energy projects, including at least 5 fossil fuel projects. Senator Manchin wants to force construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile fracked gas pipeline (MVP).  If completed, the MVP will be responsible for an additional 89 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the equivalent of 26 coal plants. Approving new fossil fuel projects would lock us into decades of pollution. The climate science is clear: governments cannot approve ANY new fossil fuel projects if we are to meet emissions reduction goals and avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

Continued oil and gas leasing and drilling will devastate communities and rising temperatures in New Mexico. In the Greater Chaco region of northwestern New Mexico, the vast majority of available lands are already leased for extraction, with over 40,000 oil and gas wells scarring the landscape. Oil and gas extraction is so extensive in southeastern New Mexico’s Permian Basin that the region has been described as a climate bomb. 

The fossil fuel wish list in this dirty fossil fuel deal is a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate. This legislation would truncate and hollow-out the environmental review process, weaken Tribal consultations and make it far harder for frontline communities to have their voices heard by gutting bedrock protections in NEPA and the CWA.

Senator Heinrich (co-chair of the Electrification Caucus) says he supports this side deal because it will facilitate construction of power transmission lines to bring renewable energy to our cities. (Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2022). Gutting NEPA to ease the construction of power transmission lines is both short-sighted and dangerous. In a letter to Senators Heinrich and Lujan, many in New Mexico are warning that “prolonging the fossil fuel era perpetuates environmental racism, is wildly out of step with climate science, and hamstrings our nation’s ability to avert a climate disaster. Supporting this legislation would represent a profound betrayal of frontline communities and constituents across the country who have called on you to prevent the multitude of harms of fossil fuels and advance a just, renewable energy future.” 

If Senator Manchin and the fossil fuel industry pass this side deal, we will lose the small window of opportunity we have to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Will you call Senator Heinrich and urge him to stop the dirty fossil fuel deal?  202-224-5521

Let’s also thank Representative Melanie Stansbury (202-225-6316) for her opposition to this dangerous fossil fuel deal. She joined Rep. Grijalva (D-Ariz) and 71 other House Democrats this week in a letter to Speaker Pelosi and House Majority Leader Hoyer expressing strong opposition to including Senator Manchin’s permitting reform legislation in this month’s Continuing Resolution. Now we’re asking for Senators Heinrich and Lujan to do the same, and lead the Senate in opposing Manchin’s dirty fossil fuel deal.

As Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, wrote, “Any member of Congress who believes that gutting environmental safeguards will help renewable energy will have fallen victim to the most cunning psyop plan ever concocted by the fossil fuel industry.”