By Jonathan Lacock-Nisly, IPL Federal Policy Associate
Things in Congress are moving fast, as the White House and congressional Democrats near a deal on the Build Back Better Act. That multi-trillion dollar budget reconciliation bill contains essential investments in climate and environmental justice, as well as healthcare, education, childcare, and more. But there’s plenty of work left to do, especially for those of us who want to see a bill that’s bold on climate and environmental justice.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R.3684, which includes some positive provisions, but is not a climate bill) passed the Senate in August. House leadership had said they would hold that bill and wouldn’t bring it up for a vote until the Build Back Better Act was ready to pass alongside. Last month, however, House leadership changed its mind and tried to pass the infrastructure bill on its own.
Thankfully, the faith and environmental communities mobilized, our champs in the House stood strong, and the vote was cancelled. House leadership and the White House re-committed to waiting until both bills could pass together.
The good news: that show of commitment brought moderates to the table, and negotiations on the Build Back Better Act started making real progress. House committees wrote up their version of the Build Back Better Act as a $3.5 trillion bill that met almost all of our climate and environmental justice priorities. (Bill text here)
The bad news: The Senate has always been the bigger hurdle. Progress in negotiations there means the bill is shrinking, from $3.5 trillion to somewhere around $2 trillion or less. IPL continues to push for a bigger and bolder bill, with investments that meet the needs of our communities.
The framework of a deal on Build Back Better could be finalized any day now. If that happens, the House will likely move quickly to pass the infrastructure bill they’ve been holding. We’ll be watching closely to make sure any deal on Build Back Better is meaningful and contains adequate investments in climate and environmental justice. If it doesn’t, we’ll turn to our champs again to make sure the infrastructure bill doesn’t pass until Build Back Better is truly ready.
What’s in? What’s out?
Until we have bill text in the Senate (and a vote in both chambers), nothing is finalized! But the media is reporting:
- The Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), which would reward utilities who increase clean electricity and fine utilities who fail to do so, is reportedly being cut because of the opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin. That’s a big blow to the bill’s climate provisions, but it’s also not the final word. IPL is going to keep pushing for the program, and asking the question, if not the CEPP, what else for the climate? President Biden has suggested the $150 billion budgeted for the program could be shifted to additional funding for clean energy tax credits.
- Environmental justice funds are on the line. The House text already did not include clear language for President Biden’s promise that 40% of climate and environmental benefits would go to the communities most affected by fossil fuel pollution—communities that are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and people of color. However, the House version did have significant money for key environmental justice priorities, including funds to remove every lead water pipe in the country, new environmental justice block grants, cleanup of Superfund sites, and more. Like most provisions, environmental justice funds are in danger as the bill gets smaller. Now is the time to let your lawmakers know that environmental justice is a priority.
- Other important climate provisions are likely to be safe. Clean energy tax credits for wind and solar electricity are viewed as essential by most Democratic senators, and as referenced above, President Biden has even floated increasing the size of those credits as a substitute for the CEPP. An increase for the electric vehicle tax credit is also likely to be protected, as is some kind of fee on methane pollution for fossil fuel producers. That methane pollution fee would be a big deal, since methane is a climate super polluter with up to 80 times the climate-heating power of carbon dioxide in the short term.
It’s been a long time coming, but thanks to your work and the work of countless other faith and climate advocates across the country, we’re close to the finish line. Keep the faith, and keep calling your senators and representatives! We are getting close to securing truly historic federal policies to advance climate justice.
Whatever passes in the Senate, there will still be much more to do to achieve Biden’s pledge that the U.S. will cut our greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels). Administrative action, including new EPA rules on clean vehicles and Dept of Interior rules on methane emissions from oil and gas extraction, as well as state action will continue to be critical. IPL will keep you posted on advocacy opportunities and how you can stay involved!