The Manchin permitting side deal would eviscerate IRA climate progress

December 8, 2022 6:00 am

A gas pipeline excavation in process. Getty Images.

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, we have felt a renewed sense of hope — for the climate, for our long-burdened communities, and for the ability of our political system to take action on the issues that matter most.

By investing $369 billion in climate action, we narrow the funnel delivering the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that everyday adds to our climate crisis. We also celebrate the provisions to address long-standing environmental injustices.

But with renewed discussions about a permitting provision pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin, these climate and environmental justice gains are in serious jeopardy.

Like most bills, the proposed Manchin side deal as introduced in September does more than one thing.

Proponents ask us to focus on the permitting changes they say could aid transmission line projects for renewable energy. But this isolated focus ignores other provisions that counteract the benefit of those lines by ensuring the continued growth — instead of the needed sunsetting — of the fossil fuel industry.

The most recent version of the language we’ve seen requires the president to designate an ongoing list of at least 25 energy infrastructure projects of “strategic national importance” to receive special permitting prioritization. For the next seven years, the bill language states, that list must continually include, among other things, at least six large (over $250 million) fossil fuel or biofuel projects, even if the fuel is for export.

Fossil fuel projects — even only a few of them — will eviscerate the climate progress we seek as a nation. 

Let’s look at the math:

All of the good Inflation Reduction Act measures passed by Congress this August are expected to reduce our annual GHG contributions by 1 billion metric tons by the year 2030.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline for natural gas — the completion of which the Manchin side deal would also mandate — has been Manchin’s main priority for the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia.

Not only does this pipeline threaten the clean waters of Appalachia, it will emit 89 million metric tons (the equivalent of 26 coal plants) of GHGs annually — as soon as it is built.

Via Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Or, consider the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline running through Minnesota. Expedited construction left a trail of breached groundwater aquifers, 28 drilling sludge frac-outs — and an annual contribution of 273 million metric tons of GHG emissions when operating at capacity. (The expansion added 193 million metric tons more of emissions output potential each year to the pipeline’s previous impact, which is itself more than all of the emissions from the whole state of Minnesota from every sector combined.) 

In other words, it won’t take many fossil fuel projects to overtake the positive progress made by the IRA.

Around every state and in every country, people are leaning in to take climate action. Families have put up solar panels. Schools are composting lunches. Cities are electrifying their transportation systems. Businesses are greening their supply chains. They are doing this all because they want it to matter.

But it isn’t enough to start the good things. We must also stop the bad things.

Even when the fossil fuel industry wants them.

Passing the Manchin side deal would turn the potential for climate progress into a climate catastrophe. It would show that the historic legislation of August was actually an emissions shell game. And it would stomp on the just-sprouting faith we were starting to have — that our political system could show up when it was needed most.

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Julia Nerbonne
Julia Nerbonne

Julia Nerbonne is the executive director of Interfaith Power & Light.

Sara Wolff
Sara Wolff

Sara Wolff is the strategic policy director at Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.