Washington Report – June 2023

Jun 7, 2023 | Uncategorized, Blog, Washington Report

Written by: Madison Mayhew, IPL Federal Policy Advocate

This week, smoke from the Canadian wildfires made its way to Washington DC, bringing evidence of the climate crisis right to our front door. After the disappointing vote last week to attach the Mountain Valley Pipeline and weaken NEPA in the debt ceiling bill, alongside the SCOTUS decision to narrow the scope of the Clean Water Act, the poor air quality from the smoke feels like tangible climate grief we can see. 

Solidarity and care to our beloved neighbors and communities experiencing this painful reminder. If you’re looking for extra mental health support with a climate aware therapist, consider checking out the Climate Aware Therapist Directory by the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America. Caring for ourselves and our mental health is sacred work. 

The Latest on Climate Policy

Debt Ceiling, NEPA and MVP 

Earlier this week, President Biden signed the “Fiscal Responsibility Act,” H.R. 3746 to raise our debt ceiling and avoid defaulting on our national debt. The bill will suspend the nation’s debt limit until after the 2024 election.

Passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 included provisions that undermine the National Environmental Policy Act, and set the course to fast-track permitting for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, while limiting our ability to litigate the project moving forward. Faith communities, frontline groups and environmental justice leaders rallied to support Senator Kaine’s amendment to remove the MVP from the bill, but ultimately lost to industry. Today, on June 8th, our IPL-DMV, VA-IPL and WV-IPL affiliates will be joining with groups from Appalachia and environmental justice leaders outside of the White House to stand in solidarity with our neighbors on the frontlines and demand President Biden do all he can to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The changes to NEPA in the Fiscal Responsibility Act are major and devastating. Changes include allowing project sponsors to perform reviews that redefine applicability, increased expenses, or categorical exclusion, which impact the quality or reviews and overall public trust. We’ll be sharing more details about these changes soon. 

Conversations about permitting reform are ongoing, especially around transmission. The next two months will be critical as priorities continue to take shape. We will continue to track updates and will share action opportunities as they arise. 

Farm Bill 

The Farm Bill is the single largest conservation investment that the federal government annually makes; the Congressional Budget Office reports that conservation funding in the Farm Bill totals $6 billion annually. In 2014, Congress made cuts to conservation investments in the Farm Bill totaling about $1 billion. Four years later, when conservation funding in the 2018 Farm Bill stayed flat, the purchasing power of conservation programs was limited even more. For nearly a decade now, these cuts have gutted agricultural projects that deserve funding.

The current Farm Bill is set to expire in September of this year. In terms of the reauthorization process this year, the House and Senate write two different bills which will be debated on and receive a floor vote. After a committee vote, it will receive a full chamber vote, and members from both the House and Senate will form a conference committee to combine these bills, which will then receive a chamber vote and be on its way to receive the President’s signature – all of this needs to happen before September 30th, 2023. At the end of March 2023, the Senate Agriculture Committee was asking for Farm Bill priorities from the Senate including bipartisan marker bill language. The Senate is still releasing marker bills as the Senate Ag Committee continues to write the bill. On the House side, Members are going through a similar process of outlining priorities through an online portal that will end June 9.

Freedom to Vote Act

Protecting the right to vote and expanding access to voting is essential to protect our democracy and our environment. We cannot have a healthy climate without a healthy democracy. 

The Freedom to Vote Act will protect the voices of voters, end partisan gerrymandering, counter undemocratic and dangerous election sabotage efforts, and help to eliminate the undue influence of dark money in our elections. The Freedom to Vote Act, which incorporates significant feedback from state and local election officials, will ensure all voices and votes will be heard, counted, and protected. 

If enacted, the Freedom to Vote Act would be the most significant, comprehensive anti-corruption and voting rights bill in generations. This transformational legislation is also essential to counteract the many voter suppression and sabotage laws recently enacted in at least 20 states. Reforms contained in the bill are popular, and many of them are tried-and-true solutions that have passed in red, blue, and purple states.

It is likely that this legislation will be introduced this month. IPL will continue to work with partners to identify action opportunities. 

SCOTUS – Sackett v. EPA

The Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act by eliminating most protections for wetlands in the Sackett v. EPA decision

The Court has sided with big polluters and has significantly weakened protections that have safeguarded our waters for over 50 years.  This places our communities, public health, and local ecosystems in danger – especially those most vulnerable to pollution and intensifying climate disasters. Congress and state officials across the country can and must act to protect water bodies that our nation relies on for drinking, fishing, and fueling local economies. 

Action Opportunities 

Tell the EPA to finalize robust light and heavy duty vehicle standards! 

In April, the EPA released proposed light- and heavy-duty vehicle standards, and while the proposed rules are a good starting place, we have an opportunity to commit to bold action and go even further. Strong clean vehicle standards will help ensure that our nation’s cars, trucks, and buses become more fuel-efficient while reducing carbon pollution. Please join us in calling upon EPA to finalize robust light-duty standards and heavy-duty standards that prioritize environmental justice and accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles across the country! 

Sign onto Faith Leader Letters calling for stronger HDV and LDV standards 

IPL is also circulating two special sign-on letters for clergy members and faith leaders across the country calling on EPA to commit to stringent light- and heavy-duty standards. Please add your name to both the light-duty letter and the heavy-duty letter and help strengthen the call for standards that protect public health, our communities, and our Shared Home! These letters will be hand-delivered to EPA later this month.

Solar Financing Webinar

Learn how to finance solar at your congregation on June 21 at 11 am Pacific/ 2 pm Eastern with IPL’s Solar Financing for Congregations webinar! Learn more about the different ways congregations can finance solar from Jerry Bernstein, author of IPL’s Solar Financing for Congregations. Then we’ll take a deeper look at one of the options that allow a congregation to install solar with no up-front costs, called power purchase agreements. Andreas Karelas, the Executive Director of RE-volv will explain how these agreements benefit a congregation and why they are still a good idea, even with the new government support for nonprofits to go solar. Andreas will also offer a sneak peak at how the new government bonuses will likely be distributed to congregations going solar.

RE-volv is a climate justice nonprofit that helps nonprofits in underserved communities across the country go solar while raising awareness about equitable climate solutions and training the next generation of clean energy leaders.

Then we’ll hear from an IPL solar congregation on how they got started, overcame challenges, and successfully cut their energy use with solar.

What better way to celebrate the summer solstice than to make plans to use the energy of the sun to heal our Sacred Earth.

Register here.

Climate and Energy Resources for Faith Communities: A Briefing with the U.S. Department of Energy

July 18th at 3 pm ET / Noon PT

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) created the largest climate and clean energy investment America has ever made. These bills provide federal funding for energy and climate resiliency improvements that can be used in houses of worship and our homes. This historic legislation provides people of faith and conscience with an opportunity to live our values of caring for one another and for our Sacred Earth. The IRA included clean energy tax credits for wind and solar, EVs, efficiency upgrades, heat pumps, and much more. It also made it easier for nonprofits and houses of worship to access clean energy funds and tax credits through a program called “direct pay.” Before the IRA, only homeowners and commercial entities with some tax liability could claim tax credits when installing solar panels or other eligible technologies on an eligible property. Now, the “direct pay” option means non-taxable entities can also benefit from these credits.

Join us for a briefing with the U.S. Department of Energy to learn more about direct pay, the tax credits, the programs, and the role faith communities can play in helping our country address the climate crisis and ensure that all communities are supported. 

Hosted by: Interfaith Power & Light, Adamah, the United Church of Christ, United Women in Faith, Global Ministries United Methodist Church, and Creation Justice Ministries

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 your comment to federal agencies to protect climate forests

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have announced a pathway for protecting mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal public lands.

After decades of aggressive logging practices, only about 10% of mature and old forests remain in the United States. These forests, found almost exclusively on federal public land (managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are essential for watershed health, provide critical wildlife habitat, and are an important natural climate solution, absorbing and storing tons of carbon.  Despite their importance, mature and old-growth forests are still targeted for logging on public forests across the country.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are currently seeking public input on new national rules the agencies can adopt to better manage our public forests. Submit your comment to urge the agencies to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal public lands.

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