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Washington Report – May 2023

May 18, 2023 | Blog, Washington Report

Written by: Madison Mayhew, IPL Federal Policy Advocate

Last week, over 30 affiliates joined together in Washington D.C. for our National Conference! The theme this year was Climate Solutions Through Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. It was great to see so many folks from across the network as we learned and shared together.

A highlight of the week was our lobby day on Wednesday. Together, we had over 100 meetings with 29 affiliates, and an additional 63 office drop bys. A few folks were able to meet their Members and Senators!  Our lobby priorities focused on protecting conservation programs in the Farm Bill, centering environmental justice and community input in permitting reform legislation, promoting strong administrative rules and supporting the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act! 

The Latest on Climate Policy

Debt Ceiling + Permitting Reform 

At the end of April, House Republicans passed legislation called the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 in order to begin negotiations on raising the debt limit. 

Recent reporting indicates that lawmakers must do their duty and ensure the country honors its debts by raising the debt ceiling as soon as June 1st, but the House GOP is holding the economy hostage unless Congress agrees to give in to their demands. The Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 would slash government funding, fast-track dirty and dangerous fossil fuel projects, and repeal thousands of clean energy jobs and investments just to extend the debt limit for one year. 

The allies of big polluters in the House want to repeal critical clean energy investments from President Biden’s historic climate legislation—which has already spurred $150 billion in new investments and over 100,000 newly announced jobs—and defund agencies that work to cut climate pollution, protect our air and water, permit infrastructure projects, and advance environmental justice in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. These harmful policies will do nothing but harm our communities and undo all the progress made to position America as a global leader in the clean energy transition.

Additional context for current state of play: 

Last year Senator Manchin was promised passage of his “dirty deal” – an energy project permitting reform bill, that would have green-lit the Mountain Valley Pipeline and opened the door to new fossil fuel projects. Advocates, including faith communities, blocked his legislation from being passed multiple times because we know the significant threat oil and gas infrastructure poses on environmental justice and frontline communities, and the overall health of our planet. 

This is relevant because Senator Manchin’s bill has returned like a haunted ghost, and is now likely being tied to debt ceiling negotiations. It has been confirmed that Sen. Manchin is much closer to building the necessary majorities to pass legislation would not only fast track the MVP, but gut bedrock environmental protections like NEPA that uphold community input and environmental regulations when pursuing new projects. 

On Wednesday, John Podesta announced a deal on permitting:

John Podesta, the President’s lead climate advisor, recently outlined at an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center the ways the President made good on his promise to Sen. Manchin to pass a law to cut NEPA so that projects can be processed faster by cutting down on community input. The White House is likely putting these priorities out now to lay the way for these changes to the law as provisions of an agreement to lift the debt ceiling. Co-Chairs of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) Clean Energy Deployment Task Force, Reps. Sean Casten (IL) and Mike Levin (CA) released a supportive statement of the President’s priorities. 

How is the Dirty Deal connected to the Debt Ceiling Negotiations?

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this month that the United States could default on its debt as soon as June 1. In order to avoid defaulting, the President has called Congress to pass legislation that would raise the debt ceiling. The President’s meeting with Republican leadership on Tuesday failed to yield a deal. On Wednesday, the President reiterated that he wants to see a clean debt-ceiling deal to avoid defaulting. The President said he would like a debt ceiling lift without Republican priorities attached, but that may mean a deal that includes parts of the Dirty Deal. There is still time to get all or parts of it included into the text of the debt ceiling lift.

What Happens Next?

  1. If Leader Schumer and Sen. Manchin can get an agreement from enough members to pass a debt ceiling lift with some or all of the Dirty Deal, they can bring a bill to the floor and pass it quickly without being required to have the Senate Energy or Environment Committees pass the legislation first. Then, once passed, assuming he has enough Republicans willing to vote to raise the debt ceiling, Speaker McCarthy can bring the bill for a vote and pass the bill in the House. Then, the President would be able to sign the deal into law. 
  1. If Congress fails to include the Dirty Deal on the bill to lift the debt ceiling, then it may attempt to use other vehicles to try again. “Must-pass” bills this year include the annual defense spending bill, annual appropriations bills, the farm bill, the aviation administration reauthorization, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization, and possibly others. Even if Sen. Manchin succeeds in getting parts of the Dirty Deal attached to this debt deal; we will keep an eye on all of these “must-pass” vehicles.

As people of faith, we believe budgets are moral documents. As the deadline to raise the debt ceiling quickly approaches, it is critical that Congress and President Biden refuse to attach any “permitting reform” legislation to “must-pass” legislation. Permitting reform is necessary to transition to a clean energy future AND MUST NOT come at the expense of frontline communities. We must protect NEPA to ensure all voices are heard, and our beloved communities and sacred Earth remain protected. 

Farm Bill

The current Farm Bill is set to expire in September of this year. Congress is in the process of shaping the next iteration of the bill and is taking input from stakeholders. Over 40 faith based organizations signed onto these Principles for a FAITHful Climate Farm Bill, which we are using to center our advocacy efforts

Last month, we partnered with Creation Justice Ministries, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, American Friends Service Committee, United Women in Faith, and the Environmental Working Group to highlight the climate implications of the Farm Bill and why people of faith should take action. Watch the recording here.

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act 

Last week, Senators Heinrich (NM) and Tillis (NC) announced ten Senators – four Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent have joined them as cosponsors of their bipartisan legislation. RAWA invests in proactive, on-the-ground conservation work led by states, territories, and Tribal nations to support the long-term health of fish and wildlife and their habitats all across America. We sent this letter signed by 25 faith organizations to every Senate office last week: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18s921qvAblJCe3vM_KnmlgWPR8DksmPJdRarwCzyL04/edit?usp=sharing

EPA Proposed New Federal Limits on Climate Pollution from Power Plants

Last week EPA proposed new federal limits on climate pollution from power plants. IPL affiliate leaders from GA and AZ and IPL national staff were still in Washington DC after last week’s lobby day and were able to attend the announcement (pictured above). This means we will have yet another tool to help address the climate crisis. For more than a decade, people of faith and conscience have advocated for strong EPA safeguards against climate pollution from power plants. While the Biden administration’s proposal is significant, we must go even further to tackle the climate crisis, protect our health, and slash pollution that harms our communities — especially those that have been disproportionately harmed and that live near fossil fuel facilities.EPA mustgo even further and make the rule stronger. The areas that need to be strengthened are the timeline (too slow) and that peaker gas plants under 300MW are not required to meet the standard. Peakers are often the most polluting and have the biggest air quality impacts to the communities they’re located in. The comment period isn’t expected to open until early June, with hearings likely in mid-June. Please help amplify this IPL Twitter tread about the announcement.

Action Opportunities 

Faith leader carbon rule sign on comment letter

IPL is circulating this faith leader carbon rule comment sign on letter to EPA in partnership with several faith partners. Please invite anyone in your network with a title or the leader of a religious organization to add their names by July 12th. 

Submit Comments to EPA for Strong Mercury Protections

EPA proposed strengthening standards against mercury pollution and other toxic air pollution from power plants. This is a big step in the right direction to protect people from toxic air pollutants like arsenic, mercury, and other heavy metals that cause disease and premature death. Invite your faith community to submit a comment to EPA urging them to finalize strong mercury pollution protections against power plant pollution.

HDV comments

The EPA recently released proposed heavy-duty vehicle standards. Strong clean truck and bus standards will help ensure that our nation’s fleet of heavy-duty vehicles becomes more fuel-efficient while reducing carbon pollution. Please join us in calling upon EPA to finalize a robust standard that prioritizes environmental justice and accelerates the transition to zero-emission trucks, school buses, and tractor-trailers.

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