Biden, Congressional Democrats Urged to Accelerate Renewable Energy, Deprioritize Fossil Fuels - Climate Justice Alliance

Groups Propose Legislative Path That Rejects Manchin, Republican Ploys

WASHINGTON— Climate Justice Alliance, along with more than 290 groups, urged President Biden and Congressional Democratic leaders today to take action and accelerate renewable energy, address electric transmission challenges, and advance environmental justice.

Recognizing the fossil fuel industry’s huge structural advantages, the letter and a supporting policy brief outline a menu of positive actions that Congress could take. The groups call on Congress to reject proposals by Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin that provide meager benefits to renewable energy and huge windfalls to fossil fuels.

“Instead of fixating on a few uninspiring proposals, Congress should take meaningful action to address transmission challenges and advance a renewable energy future,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We don’t have to subscribe to Sen. Manchin’s ploy to bolster the fossil fuel industry or sit back and watch the Republicans’ horror show efforts to dismantle every environmental safeguard. Congress must do better.”

The letter identifies five key areas for Congressional action:

1) Maximize distributed energy resources, including the deployment of distributed solar on rooftops of residential, commercial and public buildings, parking lots and other developed areas near where energy is being consumed. This should be in conjunction with the deployment of battery storage and microgrids to provide more reliable, resilient and affordable energy that benefits communities.

2) Redouble energy efficiency efforts, including deploying heat pumps, better weatherization, and demand-response technologies to minimize energy use while giving federal agencies the authority to crack down on energy-wasting activities from emerging industries such as cryptocurrency.

3) Reform and restructure the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy to provide master planning authorities that prioritize distributed energy and responsibly sited transmission, efficiently coordinate multi-level permitting, and stop for-profit utilities from obstructing renewable energy deployment. A new board of environmental justice and energy justice experts should lead this planning process.

4) Mandate that all federal agencies advance innovative solutions to displace fossil fuels with renewable energy, such as requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prioritize building back communities harmed by natural disasters with renewable energy systems rather than fossil fuel systems.

5) Instruct all federal agencies to deprioritize the review and approval of any fossil fuel projects until every renewable energy and affiliated transmission project currently pending before that federal agency has been completed — and provide robust funding so communities are given meaningful opportunities to be heard.

The letter implores Congress to expand community engagement and protect environmental justice by taking two actions. First, Congress should pass the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act, which ensures that cumulative impacts are fully considered in all decision making. Second, Congress should require that federal agencies receive free, prior and informed consent through meaningful consultation with Tribal governments and Tribal community members before making any decisions.

“It is not necessary to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act or environmental regulations for a just transition to renewable energy. In fact, the opposite is true. Respecting Tribal sovereignty and Indigenous stewardship of land is the best path forward to ending the climate crisis,” said Jordan Harmon, policy analyst and legislative advocate at Indigenous Environmental Network. “To achieve these goals, Congress and the Biden administration should reject false solutions and focus on prioritizing smaller scale distributed energy resources, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and implementing genuine free, prior, and informed consent from affected communities for any energy projects.”

The groups’ letter also warns against costly and unproven technologies that claim to reduce emissions. Congress and the Biden administration continue to elevate these technologies, such as hydrogen power or a vast network of pipelines for carbon capture, even though such technologies extend the use of fossil fuels and continue to subject environmental justice communities to potentially decades of additional pollution and other burdens.

“For far too long, our elected leaders have allowed the fossil fuel industry and investor-owned utilities to control our power grid, pollute our neighborhoods, and create sacrifice zones out of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities. Congress and the Biden administration now have an opportunity to fix long-standing environmental injustices by rejecting fossil fuel projects including hydrogen and carbon capture and storage,” said Juan Jhong-Chung, climate justice director at Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and co-chair of Climate Justice Alliance’s policy working group. “Our government must strengthen environmental regulations, properly fund its agencies, engage with those most impacted first, and plan for an energy system that minimizes extraction and maximizes benefits for all. No matter our race or zip code, we all deserve a just and community centered renewable energy future.”

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