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A climate justice user’s guide to the Manchin energy infrastructure bill

by Sarah Lutz, climate campaigner

$12.6 billion: The amount of money for carbon capture

The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) released a report in May rejecting the narrative that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects should be implemented in communities under the guise of Environmental Justice (EJ). The next day, Gina McCarthy, speaking on behalf of the White House, blatantly ignored this EJ recommendation by talking up the role of CCS in Biden’s climate policy. Dismissing the WHEJAC’s recommendations further marginalizes the voices of those who would bear the burden of politicians allowing unproven technologies to embed fossil fuel infrastructure in their communities. This is just one chapter in a continual trend of politicians ignoring legitimate concerns with CCS in favor of Big Oil talking points. The result has been many high-profile projects — such as FutureGen 2.0, the Kemper power plant, and the Texas Clean Energy Project — benefiting from substantial taxpayer investments only to collapse. Senator Manchin wants to continue propping up this polluter scheme by giving away billions of infrastructure investment to CCS.

  • Large Scale Carbon Storage and Commercialization Program: A major new grant program to subsidize “expanded commercial large-scale carbon sequestration projects and associated carbon dioxide transport infrastructure, including funding for the feasibility, site characterization, permitting, and construction stages of project development.”
  • Carbon Removal Program: funding to create four regional direct air capture hubs. The projects are to be located in a region with existing carbon intensive fuel production or industrial capacity, or such capacity that has retired or closed in the preceding 10 years. At least two of the hubs are to be built in economically distressed regions with high coal or shale gas resources.
  • Carbon Capture Large-Scale Pilot Projects, originally authorized under the Energy Policy Act of ’05, were specifically designed to prolong the use of coal as a feedstock for electricity.

$6 billion: The size of the nuclear bailout

The nuclear industry likes to bundle itself with renewable energy technologies, portraying failing nuclear power plants as clean. This doesn’t pass the laugh test. Nuclear power is incredibly toxic at every stage; the mining, milling and enriching of uranium are all carbon-intensive processes that generate vast amounts of radioactive and toxic wastes. The unsustainable supply and production of nuclear power are compounded by the lack of any plan or capability to safely store the 2,000 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel produced each year. Additionally, nuclear energy is a massive source of environmental injustice, as the vast majority of uranium mines, mills, production facilities, reactors and waste dumps are located in communities that are disproportionately Indigenous, Black, People of Color, rural and low-wealth.

$7 billion: The amount of funding that could be hijacked for dirty hydrogen

One of the newer Big Oil distractions has been the renewed interest in hydrogen. While hydrogen can be used for a variety of industrial and energy purposes, including as a form of energy storage, it is only as clean as the fuel source used to produce it — and 95 percent of hydrogen is produced using fracked gas. Polluters have a vested interest in maintaining this status quo, and producing hydrogen allows them to repackage fossil fuels and other dirty energies as clean. Senator Manchin is happy to oblige, as nearly all of the hydrogen provisions in the Energy Infrastructure Act make no distinctions between hydrogen produced from renewable sources and hydrogen produced from fossil fuels and nuclear. For example, the largest single hydrogen authorization in the bill is $8 billion for a series of regional hubs. Of the four hubs, only one is required to use renewable energy as a feedstock “to the maximum extent practicable,” while two others must use fossil fuels and nuclear, respectively. Given that at least two must be sited with preference to regions with major natural gas resources, and the hubs will be directed to “use energy resources that are abundant in that region,” there is little question of Senator Manchin’s intent that this funding will be used to produce hydrogen from fossil fuels.

  • Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs, two of which must be located in economically distressed communities in the regions of the United States with the greatest natural gas resources.
  • The Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis Program would fund research, development, demonstration, commercialization, and deployment of hydrogen produced through electrolysis. The eligibility of the high-temperature electrolyzers indicates that fossil or biomass combustion or nuclear energy could be used to provide thermal energy to help produce hydrogen.
  • The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program has become heavily dominated by logging interests and U.S. Forest Service personnel, and has become little more than a vehicle for destructive commercial logging.
  • Mechanical thinning and timber harvesting subsidizes logging on public lands. The Forest Service defines “small” diameter trees so broadly that industrial logging activities could and would qualify. Moreover, the “to the extent practicable” phrase means that the small-diameter language can simply be ignored by the Forest Service. The broad discretion to define “small” and “ecologically appropriate” will result in logging that undermines the resiliency of our forests and results in wildfires burning more intensely.
  • Wildfire and forestry management is often used as a justification for logging, funding post-fire logging on federal public lands with taxpayer money under the guise of “restoration.” In absence of environmental standards, industrial logging and clearcutting could be spun as creating “fuelbreaks” or “removing flammable vegetation.”
  • ‘Byproducts of restoration projects’ is a guise for subsidizing forest biomass and wood pellets produced from private and public lands. The lack of environmental standards means that the biomass and wood pellet industries would merely need to use the phrase “ecosystem restoration” to promote their logging and clearcutting in order to receive the subsidies — regardless of the truth.

20 percent: The Manchin cut to the AML coal fee

Credit where credit’s due, the Manchin bill authorizes $11.3 billion for the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund. This is a program to reclaim, or restore, lands scarred by coal mining that continue to pose risks to human health and the environment. Established in 1978, the AML is designed to repair lands wrecked by mining from before the advent of modern environmental law. It covers coal exclusively, and does not fund the immense reclamation needs of either hardrock minerals or uranium.

$0: The size of the increase in bonding requirements for oil and gas wells on public lands

Orphan wells are one of the many dirty legacies left behind by Big Oil. Millions of oil and gas wells across the U.S. have been abandoned by operators without any effort to clean up the operation or plug the well. These wells emit roughly 281 kilotons of methane annually, contaminate surrounding groundwater, and risk explosion. Remediating these wells is crucial, they are a constant source of dangerous pollution and the clean-up process creates jobs. The Energy Infrastructure Act includes some funds for this cleanup, including $250,000,000 for orphan wells on public lands during the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2031, as well as funds for Tribal Governments. The issue is that the “Exxon infrastructure package” proposes this funding without any bonding reform. Surety, or well-plugging, bonds are intended to guarantee that drillers plug unused wells before abandoning them. However, current bonding provisions have proven far from sufficient in ensuring polluters, not taxpayers, pay for the cleanup.


In the ExxonMobil sting, Keith McCoy talked candidly about Big Oil’s favorite democrats. No one was surprised to see Senator Manchin on Exxon’s list. Mr. McCoy’s observation, that Senator Manchin is not shy about staking his claim, is clear throughout his infrastructure bill. The over 70-to-1 dirty to renewables is classic Manchin and classic Big Oil. Legislation like this puts at risk President Biden’s promise to put climate at the center of infrastructure.



Friends of the Earth U.S. defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world.

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Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth U.S. defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world.