by Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, Federal Policy Associate
This was meant to be a review of IPL’s policy work in 2020, but the first few weeks of 2021 have provided enough happenings for a year already. Since the January 6th attack on the Capitol, undertaken by a mob including white supremacists and encouraged by President Trump, Interfaith Power & Light has called for the President to resign or be removed from office. The world that we seek to achieve—a world of racial justice and climate justice, a world where we care for our neighbors and Creation—cannot be achieved unless we successfully reject this attack on our democracy. You can add your voice to that call here.
Climate and Environment in Covid Relief
Another important update from the past month, before we go back to the beginning of 2020, concerns the environmental provisions included in the combined Covid relief and federal budget bill passed into law at the end of December. After months of advocacy from IPL, state affiliates, and people of faith across the country, Congress passed funding for extended unemployment insurance, rental assistance, and more. You can read about the non-environmental components of that relief here.
The environment and climate section of the bill included:
-A deal to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a climate super polluter currently used to make air conditioners and refrigerants
-Extensions for the solar, wind, and energy efficiency tax credits at current levels. (A tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration was also extended.)
-$14 billion in aid for local public transit systems, and $1 billion for Amtrak
-The Weatherization Assistance Program funded at $330 million for 2021, and then $350 million for 2022-25 (compared to $257 million in 2019)
-$25 billion in rental assistance that can also be used for utilities
-$638 million for low-income water and sewer customer assistance in the form of block grants to state and Tribal governments
Advocates working at the state and local level should look out for opportunities to shape policies around how the rental/utility assistance and water block grants are spent. States and tribes will have considerable power in deciding how to structure and prioritize those programs.
Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to get those provisions included. And of course, there’s still plenty left to do—President-elect Biden will be crafting his own Covid bill aimed at a longer term recovery, and Congress will be considering an infrastructure bill that is likely to closely resemble the Moving Forward Act (HR 2) that passed the House last year. Both of these bills will offer opportunities to continue working for clean energy, environmental justice, utility assistance, public transit, and more. See the FAITH Principles and Policies document, signed by over two dozen national religious organizations, for guidance in meeting with your elected officials.
With that out of the way, we’ll go back to…
Around this time a year ago, when our biggest public health concern was flu season, we were supporting an energy efficiency package put together by Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Manchin (D-WV). The package brought together about 50 bipartisan energy bills, including the extension of clean energy tax credits. The Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act, a top IPL priority that would provide funding for houses of worship and other nonprofits to purchase solar panels, was also included.
However, the inclusion of a deal to phase out HFCs (very similar to the one that ended up passing in December), ultimately turned some Senate Republicans against the bill. The package still had the support of over 60 senators, but then-Majority Leader McConnell refused to allow a vote. Efforts to reach an agreement were interrupted by…
Like everyone, it took some time for IPL to figure out our new role in a global pandemic. Our faith leaders were tending to immediate needs in their communities, our opportunities for in-person organizing disappeared, and Congress needed time to figure out what a lobby meeting without a hand shake would look like.
Yet we adapted, and we began to understand what our role would be in this pandemic. We learned how local air pollution from fossil fuels contributes to Covid deaths, and because of our country’s history of environmental racism, how those deaths disproportionately happen in majority Black neighborhoods.
The police killing of George Floyd, the subsequent uprising for Black lives, and a nation-wide refocusing on racial justice reinforced our efforts on environmental justice. We cannot achieve racial justice without environmental justice, and we cannot stop the climate crisis without uprooting the systems that permit environmental racism.
IPL worked with other faith and environmental organizations to craft letters to Congress outlining our priorities for Covid relief, including:
-Prioritizing environmental justice communities for funds and immediate pollution protection
-Stopping utility shut-offs, providing utility bill assistance, and funding low-income weatherization assistance
-Investing in clean energy as a form of job creation
-Ensuring relief funds didn’t go to the fossil fuel companies making this health crisis worse
-Providing funds for vote-by-mail to ensure that everyone could safely participate in our democracy
IPL affiliates and people of faith across the country joined us in calling, writing, and tweeting their support for these priorities. Over the spring and summer, we had dozens of meetings with congressional offices to highlight the need for action. The House passed several versions of the Heroes Act, which included many of our asks. The Senate, however, failed to act for months, until it became clear that no legislation would have time to pass before…
Throughout the year, IPL and affiliates advocated for fair elections that allowed everyone to cast their vote safely through early voting and voting by mail. And with our Faith Climate Justice Voter Campaign, we contacted over 1.1 million people of faith and urged them to vote with the climate in their hearts. Some more specifics from that campaign include:
-Texting over 250,000 infrequent voters of faith who are alarmed about climate change in Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and North Carolina
-Distributing 15,000+ multi-issue values voter guides, which included climate action and care for -Creating as a key values voter issue
-Collecting 6,400+ pledges to vote with climate justice and Creation in mind
-Inspiring 1,296 climate pledge signers to also get three friends to vote
-Reaching millions of people through dozens of media articles in religious and mainstream outlets, from Forbes to the National Catholic Reporter to New Hampshire Public News.
The Faith Climate Justice Voter Campaign and Georgia IPL engaged again for the Georgia run-off elections on January 5th, encouraging people of faith to vote early and with the climate in mind.
With the victory of Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Democrats now hold a tie breaking vote in the Senate, a slim majority in the House, and the White House. As mentioned above, the coming months will present opportunities for more progress on climate and environmental justice priorities through Covid recovery and infrastructure bills, shaped by our FAITH Principles and Policies. The new Congress and President-elect Biden have heard a clear call from people of faith to act on climate in 2021.
With your help, we plan to ensure they do just that.