Last weekend, the Senate voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act by a single vote. This $370 billion package is touted as the largest U.S investment in climate mitigation tactics to date. The Northern Center has a mandate to educate and advocate for the protection of the environment in northern Alaska, and welcomes nationwide legislation on climate with open arms. But working to defend and protect lands and waters in the arctic means we work collaboratively with frontline communities in the North, so we are closely following valid critiques of the IRA, how it will affect Environmental Justice communities, and how it will affect our work in northern Alaska. 

Climate justice groups have gone on the record stating that the IRA will do more harm than good for frontline communities, and we agree. While we can recognize that the bill has many strengths, if passed as written, the law will create enormous pressure for future administrations to rapidly approve harmful extraction projects under the guise of securing domestic supplies for “clean” energy. 

Ultimately, Alaska serves as a sacrifice zone for this bill. We know that Alaska communities are already at the forefront of the climate crisis—our state is experiencing twice the rate of warming as the rest of the US, with even faster warming in the Arctic. In rural Alaska communities, ecosystem and land disruption already threaten food security and survivability for residents—here, the crisis is humanitarian, while in many places it remains existential. 

The IRA is legislation that we should have seen years ago but falls short of the legislation that we need now. This means that we still have much work to do. Below, we outline some of our largest concerns with the legislation and its fallout on Environmental Justice efforts.  

INCREASED MINING ACTIVITY

We are highly concerned that the Inflation Reduction Act will pressure decision-makers to fast-track projects like the Ambler mining road—without the approval of affected Indigenous communities—due to the availability of minerals in northern Alaska coupled with our state’s extraction-hungry administration. As Clean Water and Mining coordinator Katie McClellan pointed out last week, pro-Ambler mine lawmakers like Senator Dan Sullivan claim that the development of the proposed Ambler road would help the US gain supply chain security over minerals needed for renewable energy, when in fact, these deposits are being pursued for general profits. 

When it comes to mining for “clean energy,” solutions should focus on mineral recycling, reuse, and substitution—not new mining projects, which the IRA increases demand for. We would have also liked to see provisions that increase public transportation and decrease reliance on individual vehicles. Instead, the IRA increases dependence on mining and private transportation. 

The mining industry should not be receiving subsidies—10% of production costs as outlined in the IRA—to produce more minerals. Minerals extracted from federal lands are already exempt from federal royalties under the 1872 General Mining Law. Ultimately, the proposed mining in Alaska for so-called renewable energy build-out is nuanced, and must be analyzed in terms of what is merely for profit, and what is necessary. Instead of creating an increased demand for new mineral extraction, the bill should have included incentives for recycling and reuse programs so that the U.S. can move towards circular economies that limit the need for new mine development.

INCREASED FOSSIL FUEL PRODUCTION

The IRA increases government reliance on oil and gas production and ties renewable energy production to oil and gas leasing—a slippery slope when we have long advocated for a Just Transition off of fossil fuels. The law would reinstate canceled leasing programs, including in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. Instead of looking for solutions to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, the IRA leans on false solutions like carbon capture, storage, and utilization technologies. Subsidies for such tech can then be used to pump more oil out of the ground, and again, make sacrifice zones of those communities already dealing with the harshest impacts of the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, we’re fighting the looming threat of ConocoPhillip’s massive Willow project in the Western Arctic—the single largest carbon intensive proposed development in the country. Rather than restricting these disastrous new extraction projects, the IRA rewards them. As Adam Federman reported this week in Grist, BLM’s denial of a comment period extension for the Willow project, requested by the Village of Nuiqsut and allied environmental groups, may have hinged on political trade-offs intended to get the IRA passed. This goes without saying, but the wellness of Alaska Native communities should not be treated as a political pawn. These communities are already experiencing the health impacts of living amongst oil and gas production, and will see no benefit from the IRA.

We would have loved to see a provision in this bill that would finally repeal the leasing program on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. As the Gwich’in Steering Committee stated in a press release, this was the very same process by which the destructive oil and gas mandate was tucked into the 2017 Tax Act. It’s a shame to see the Senate miss such an important opportunity to protect the Arctic because of under-the-table agreements between pro-extraction lawmakers like Senators Murkowski and Manchin. 

TURNING CRITIQUE INTO ACTION

While some groups are celebrating the IRA as a climate win, it may feel cynical to focus on the bill’s many shortcomings. But as advocates for northern Alaska’s lands, waters, and wellness, it’s our responsibility to analyze the realities of how this bill will affect our work and Alaska’s communities if passed into law. As Siqiñiq Maupin, Director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic said, “This is a life or death situation and the longer we act as though the world isn’t on fire around us, the worse our burns will be.”  

We recognize that there are many wins in the bill as written, and we are grateful that massive climate legislation has passed the Senate—even if it is legislation we should have seen years ago. The climate crisis, along with intersecting social justice issues, cannot be solved with a single bill. Simply, is it enough? No. Should we strive for better? Absolutely. If the IRA is signed into law, the Northern Center will leverage its strengths to our work, while preventing its destructive provisions from ever being implemented, working to secure future legislation that does more to protect and listen to frontline communities in the fight for climate justice. We will continue to fight to see Indigenous communities at the forefront of decision-making and stewardship, and we will advocate for pragmatic paths to end fossil fuel reliance in the United States.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For additional resources and deep-dives into the harmful (and helpful!) provisions included in the IRA, please visit the following links. 

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