By Joanie Steinhaus, Turtle Island Restoration Network
When President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act
two months ago, the bill’s shortcomings—new leases for offshore drilling and other fossil fuel giveaways—were lost in the heraldry.
The American public has largely moved on, but the residents of Florida’s Gulf Coast don’t have that luxury. If the Biden Administration doesn’t take steps to right the legislation’s wrongs, Gulf communities will continue to shoulder the burdens of fossil fuel development that have poisoned their air and water for decades.
Even for those who don’t live on the coast, the ocean affects everyone’s way of life. It powers our weather systems, fuels our economy, and sustains all life on Earth. It has absorbed 90% of the heat caused by climate change and if not for that, the average global temperature would be 122°F – more than double what it is today. But that has also made the ocean hotter, more acidic, and less habitable for the life it supports.
The single most important thing we can do for the ocean is cut emissions. So it’s worth celebrating that the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) investment in clean energy and other climate solutions will help the U.S. slash harmful greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40%. Additionally, it strengthens hurricane forecasting and invests in coastal restoration projects, which will help protect vulnerable families and businesses from severe storms and rising seas.
While these provisions are good news for the ocean, other parts of the bill undercut these benefits at the expense of the ocean and the Gulf’s frontline communities.
The IRA also delivered a huge handout to the fossil fuel industry by mandating lease sales for oil and gas drilling that had previously been on hold due to legitimate environmental concerns. The Gulf of Mexico – whose communities have already suffered firsthand from offshore drilling – is the designated hotspot for more leasing and could continue to face the consequences of fossil fuel extraction for decades.
The passage of the bill also set the stage for “side deal” legislation that would undermine environmental laws that give these communities a voice in the development and siting of fossil fuel projects. U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer have negotiated a suite of changes that would undermine bedrock laws intended to ensure the federal government considers climate impacts on communities before approving new projects.
The IRA is a step forward, and now more than ever, the U.S. must go the full mile to address climate change and create resilient communities.
Fortunately, Biden has an immediate opportunity to minimize the damage that from the IRA’s mandated oil and gas lease sales. The Department of Interior can adopt a 5-Year-Plan with no new oil and gas leasing and thereby uphold Biden’s campaign promise.
Giving big oil the option to drill for more fossil fuels in the Gulf and Alaska would only move the U.S. further from its climate goals, and further harm those communities. As the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management heard from frontline communities, they want no new leases in the new 5-Year Plan.
In addition, the President must reject the Schumer and Manchin side-deal. The irony that our nation’s most extensive climate bill hinged on the expansion of oil and gas production is not lost on Americans.
The window to fight climate change is rapidly closing. While America is taking an important step forward, we should not undermine that progress with further expansions in fossil fuel development that continue to affect frontline communities.
It will take stronger climate solutions and commitment to promises on behalf of the Biden Administration if our people and our planet are to avoid climate catastrophe.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.