‘We’ve been sold’: Environmental justice advocates slam Biden’s climate compromise

For advocates, the message their communities are hearing is: Wait your turn. Still.

“One way or another, we are both a bargaining chip and the people who can save the election day,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, deputy director of the organization and Advocacy at Ironbound Community Corp. in Newark, NJ, and a member of Biden’s White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “These are moral contradictions that cannot last too long. Something has to give.

Biden entered office pledging to simultaneously address climate change and racial inequality, embedding environmental justice plans into his platform. Mainstream green organizations also joined in, promising to help local groups tackle pollution that puts their communities at risk – and reorienting much of the environmental movement to address criticism that he has too often favored the priorities of wealthier, whiter activists.

But ultimately, environmental justice advocates say, Democrats chose to take black, Hispanic and Indigenous voters for granted and well-connected environmental groups excluded them from the political process.

“We were sold on this vague notion of ‘compromise,'” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, a coalition of grassroots Indigenous organizations. “Certain groups of people, communities, voices are seen as areas of sacrifice for a ‘greater good’.”

Environmental justice advocates have been disheartened that much of the $700 billion-plus bill to cut inflation will go to businesses or support vehicle purchase tax credits electricity, which remain out of reach for many people. The last measure, HR 5376was much less ambitious than the Democrats’ original $3.5 trillion plan last year, which called for massive investments in social programs.

Even supporters of the bill, which includes $369 billion in climate incentives, acknowledge that it contains major trade-offs. Chief among them is a guarantee to continue federal leasing of oil and gas, including in the Gulf of Mexico, shattering Biden’s campaign promise to end fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters. The White House did not immediately comment.

This measure has weakened racially and economically disadvantaged communities who lie in the shadow of Gulf Coast petrochemical facilities, said Robert Bullard, director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

But the bill also commits $60 billion in environmental justice funding, which Democrats say is the largest sum the federal government has ever offered to clean up pollution in low-income communities and communities of color. But Bullard and other advocates have questioned this figure.

Dana Johnson, senior director of strategy and federal policy for Harlem-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said the total included technologies such as direct air capture, which extracts carbon dioxide from air. air, as a benefit for environmental justice. Proponents instead cited an analysis by the Just Solutions Collective, which works with environmental justice communities, that says the bill’s actual spending on the issue is $47.5 billion. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Center approximates it to $49 billion.

“It’s not perfect” Bullard added, although he said there were “a lot of good things” in the bill. “What we need to do is get the commitment that this is not the end of our work on climate justice, and that we need to work better and work harder and work harder to make sure these big holes gaps that remain in this bill are filled with justice”.

Others say the bill advances environmental justice efforts, but that’s not the last word on the matter.

“There’s a lot to be said for how the left often has these internal dialogues and debates about whether something is perfect,” said Jade Begay, climate justice campaign director for indigenous environmental group NDN Collective and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “Keep the momentum going and keep your eye on the target, which is not the other. We cannot get distracted by the politics of purity and debate each other.

Environmental justice activists are focusing on two fronts: Nixing Manchin’s plan to fast-track permits for energy infrastructure projects and persuading Biden to declare a climate emergency.

Environmental justice groups have begun calling on lawmakers to oppose any permitting bill, which they say would harm communities suffering from pollution by reducing the input of local voices during the project planning process. . Activists are also pushing the majority leader chuck schumer and other Democrats to avoid tying the authorization bill to an inescapable funding measure needed to keep the federal government from shutting down after Sept. 30. Instead, they’re asking for a stand-alone vote that would create more odds that the authorization bill won’t pass.

Activist groups have also continued to push the White House to invoke emergency powers that would allow for stronger executive actions to reduce the pollution that causes climate change. These types of actions will be necessary, they say, because even modeling from Schumer’s office shows the new law will fall significantly short of Biden’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

“We need to think outside the box to prevent some of these bad things from happening,” said Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. She said it’s partly incumbent on activists to realign the “balance” in the Senate with a focus on voting rights to ensure Democrats don’t have to rely on such thin margins. “So I’m not sad, I’m not crying. I am motivated to find another path.

Some supporters, however, have called for scrapping the entire climate package.

Coalitions like the Climate Justice Alliance, made up of 84 organizations representing communities facing high levels of pollution, spoke out against the bill before the Senate passed it on Aug. 7. The Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition said it would quit the Fair and Just National Climate Platform, a high-profile partnership between Beltway-centric groups and environmental justice organizations that felt left out of the political process, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

“DC-based groups have spoken on our behalf to members of Congress without our prior and informed consent. They asked us to take glowing positions on legislative and executive actions that we had no knowledge of or would not readily agree with,” the coalition’s executive director, Jamesa Johnson Greer, wrote. “Without the historic and inordinate access to Congress enjoyed by Big Green groups, [environmental justice] organizations have been unjustly isolated through key moments of advocacy…with dangerous consequences for our people.

Environmental justice groups worry that spending under the new law could expose their communities to nascent technologies with unproven track records, such as carbon capture and storage or hydrogen. A White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council task force has recommended against funding such projects, but the Cut Inflation Act approves billions in incentives for them.

Many of these groups are also skeptical of the modeling proponents of the Cut Inflation Act have used to justify its climate change benefits, saying it relies in part on uncertain technologies. and assumes low demand for oil and gas produced on federal lands.

“It fell apart when some organizations decided to maintain the status quo,” said longtime environmental justice activist Anthony Rogers-Wright, who resigned from Evergreen Action’s board of directors in protest. his support for the bill and his handling of environmental justice issues.

But the modeling highlighted one thing that supporters and skeptics of the bill can agree on: just meeting US climate goals is not enough. That, at least, has given all types of conservationists more pressure targets as they push the administration to avoid complacency.

“One of the most dangerous things about the IRA is people throwing up their hands and saying, ‘That’s it, we’re done,'” said Jean Su, director of energy justice and senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Like, ‘We did it. Climate mission accomplished.’”

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