Democrats Climate Budget Bill is Too Little, Too Late

While the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 drafted by Senators Manchin and Schumer may represent the largest U.S investment to date on climate, it falls far short of the Green New Deal (GND) first called for by the Green Party in the U.S. in 2010 and fails to cut emissions fast enough to keep global warming below the 1.5 degree Celsius target.

The Act also provides support for the expansion of various fossil fuel uses and other false climate solutions, while not requiring the immediate halt of new fossil fuels and the rapid phaseout of existing uses. The legislation fails to make fossil fuel companies pay for the pollution they have caused, including the tremendous cost of health problems. It also fails to enact a tax on the windfall profits that oil and gas companies are presently raking in, a major cause of inflation. Big oil reported at least $114 billion in profits in the 2nd quarter.

“Make no mistake: the deal with Manchin is a fraud designed to whitewash Democratic appeasement of the fossil fuel industry. Unless we rapidly transition to a democratically planned eco-socialist economy and away from capitalism, catastrophic climate change is inevitable. We stand here as part of a radical climate movement calling to slash fossil fuel use and excessive energy consumption along with payment of our global climate debt. There is no longer any time to waste, or any words to spare for half-measures,” said Peter LaVenia, co-chair of the Green Party of New York.

The Greens continue to push for President Biden to declare a climate emergency and take strong executive action pursuant to

The world’s remaining carbon budget will be used up in less than 7 years under the present rate of emissions. The head of the United Nations has made it clear that we no longer can afford to waste time on incremental changes and that the measures taken by countries since the Paris accords are grossly inadequate to prevent climate collapse. Climate scientists such as Kevin Anderson have pointed out that the industrial polluting nations must reduce emissions much faster than the rest of the world, setting a target of 2035 for countries such as the US to end the use of fossil fuels. Even President Biden in his 2021 Earth Day Global Summit set a goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030.

The Green’s original GND combined a ten-year transition to 100% renewable energy, an immediate halt to new fossil fuels and zero greenhouse gas emissions with a robust Economic Bills of Rights. The detailed GND proposal by the Green’s 2020 presidential nominee outlined an annual investment for ten years of $2.7 trillion in climate measures and $1.4 trillion in critical economic programs such as universal health care, living wage jobs, housing and education.

The Democrats’ package falls far short of such goals, only investing $36.9 million annually over ten years in climate and energy provisions. Overall spending is a tenth of what Senator Schumer had submitted in August 2021, which was itself far less than what Biden had initially discussed.

While the bill does increase incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, it prioritizes automobile transportation with no meaningful investments for public transit or even electric bikes. (see analysis)

Besides the low level of funding and slow timelines, the bill mainly “tweaks the market”, relying on tax incentives to the private sector and hedge fund investors rather than public ownership or democratic control and planning for the energy sector. Even the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and Pope Francis have acknowledged that capitalism has been a core cause of the climate crisis and must be replaced with an economic and political system that prioritizes the common good rather than the maximization of profit for the 1%. Decades of experience with such market changes show that the build out of renewable energy is far too slow and are not coordinated to ensure that they are built where they are most needed.

As Food and Water Watch noted, “creating new wind and solar tax credits while giving fossil fuel polluters a green light is the ultimate devil’s bargain.” The Center for Biological Diversity said “the legislation all but ensures that the fossil fuel industry will maintain current oil and gas production levels without any change for the next decade’, and “This is a climate suicide pact.” (Analysis from the Climate and Community Project.)

The bill provides a production credit for nuclear energy and blue hydrogen and extends income and excise tax credits for biodiesel, renewable diesel, and alternative fuels. The legislation would also require oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, reinstate an illegal 2021 Gulf lease sale, and lock in oil and gas lease sales as a precondition for the approval of federal renewable energy projects.

The bill requires a constantly updated list of 25 projects that will be placed on the fast track, limiting public input and necessary environmental review. At least five of the priority items “shall be projects to produce, process, transport, or store fossil fuel products, or biofuels, including projects to export or import those products.” Two of the priority projects should be devoted to the “capture, transport, or store carbon dioxide.” It allows funding for such projects that increase the extraction of oil. The fossil fuel prioritization continues well past 2030, requiring at least three projects to be fossil fuel oriented while allowing greater discretion to add more to the priority list.

Manchin’s support for the deal was contingent on a separate federal permitting reform agreement that the Democrats plan to unveil in the fall and include in a government funding package. This includes expediting the 303-mile natural gas Mountain Valley  pipeline running through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The Climate Justice Alliance is opposing the bill in its current form. (See Indigenous Environmental Network analysis.) Environmental justice (EJ) groups have also pointed out the bill analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation shows that the proposed funding for EJ measures is lower than the sponsors claim and that the more lucrative EJ provisions sunset by 2028. Groups also question whether a number of proposed projects actually qualify as EJ. It also fails to include funding for the US’s climate reparations to the developing world that are bearing the brunt of climate change driven by the US and the other industrial polluting nations.

A Green Perspective by Mark Dunlea, Co-Chair of the EcoAction Committee of the Green Party of the United States and Chair, Green Education and Legal Fund.