Gulf of Mexico
An oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, at sunset. I.e. a visual metaphor for sunsetting fossil fuels. Photo: Victor Moussa (Shutterstock)

USA - Why Offshore Drilling Opponents Are Dismayed Over the Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act has been widely described as the largest piece of climate legislation ever passed in the U.S. It contains “the most substantial federal investment in history to fight climate change,” wrote the Associated Press on the day President Joe Biden signed the bill. Biden himself called it “the biggest step forward on climate ever.”

At first glance, it seems like something environmental advocates should be over the moon about: The U.S. is finally doing national climate policy! Yet certain key provisions in the IRA have climate experts and advocates alike worried. Or, in some cases, more than worried.

“I’m incredibly disappointed, to be honest,” Cyn Sarthou, executive director of the nonprofit group Healthy Gulf said in a phone call with Gizmodo. Sarthou’s organization is focused on environmental conservation, restoration, and justice in the Gulf of Mexico and the surrounding region. When asked if anything about the IRA is good news, Sarthou responded, “No, not for the Gulf.”

That’s because sections of the bill actually require more fossil fuel drilling. The IRA mandates that four offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, which had previously been canceled, now go forward (see: section 50264 on page 242).

Plus, the IRA ties the next decade of federal solar and wind development to even more fossil fuel projects (see: section 50265, page 244). Under the bill, new wind or solar projects on federal land or in federal water are only allowed after a minimum amount of oil and gas leases have been offered. This applies to both on and offshore energy development. For example, new offshore wind lease sales can only move forward if an offshore fossil fuel lease sale of at least 60 million acres has been held in the past year.

The largest piece of climate legislation in our national history mandates that we keep expanding oil and gas extraction. Even as scientists and policy experts worldwide repeatedly emphasize that’s exactly what we shouldn’t be doing, if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

For anti-drill advocates, the IRA forces “compromise” out of what should’ve been non-negotiable. “They’ve chained renewable energy to the continuance of fossil fuels,” said Sarthou. It’s what the Center for Biological Diversity has termed the bill’s “poison pill.” If U.S. policy requires fossil fuel expansion in the transition away from fossil fuels, is there really any transition planned at all?

What Does the IRA Do for Climate?

The approximately $375 billion in climate-related investment is significant, though a far cry from the $2 trillion plan that Biden initially proposed. Through policies and incentives promoting things like clean energy expansion, electric vehicle adoption, domestic battery and solar panel manufacturing, and improved energy efficiency, the legislation is a big proverbial carrot that the Democrats are hoping will lure the nation away from decades of reliance on fossil fuels.

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