Source: Environmental Justice Cuts Are Off the Table in Debt-Ceiling Talks

Pres. Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speak to the media after a Senate Democratic luncheon on March 3, 2023.


(Kevin Dietsch/Getty)

Funding earmarked for environmental justice initiatives in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are now off the table as a bargaining chip to raise the debt limit, says an environmental justice source close to White House talks.

The source also told TYT that as recently as Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had been considering making the trade with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to avoid default. The source’s claims could not immediately be confirmed and neither Schumer nor Pres. Joe Biden responded to TYT’s requests for comment.

Biden and McCarthy have less than two weeks, in the Treasury Department’s worst-case scenario, to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default, or else risk potentially catastrophic global economic consequences.

Cuts to environmental-justice (EJ) initiatives were part of the House bill McCarthy passed in which a debt-ceiling hike was matched with slashed spending targeting needy American communities. Environmental groups publicly expressed concern that Democrats would agree to roll back IRA measures such as clean-energy tax credits and improved community input and EJ considerations for federal energy projects.

On Saturday, the source told TYT, "The EJ money is not being toyed with anymore."

It was not immediately clear whether Schumer retracted the proposal or the White House killed it. According to multiple reports, Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) had been sidelined in recent days as talks were narrowed to just the teams for McCarthy and Biden.

The White House reportedly was also considering accepting GOP changes to how permits are issued for new energy projects, a process that disproportionately impacts Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities. Schumer agreed, as part of a deal to pass the IRA last year, to give Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) a shot at a bill to change the permitting process. After the bill died, Republicans picked up the cause.

But on Friday, TYT reported that House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), along with a third of the Democratic Caucus, sent a letter to Biden, Schumer, and Jeffries to urge against tying permitting changes to any must-pass legislation, implicitly including a debt-limit hike.

The source close to the talks called it “pathetic” for the Biden administration to consider offering up EJ funding and permitting changes in the debt ceiling negotiations, but said it’s something communities that are largely impacted by energy projects have grown used to.

“We're the first bargaining chip that gets put on the table, even though we're the ones that are going to be asked to save this administration come election time,” said the source.

TYT Washington Correspondent Candice Cole was previously a correspondent and senior White House producer for the Black News Channel and has worked at a number of local news outlets. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.