The Policy Advocacy and Legal (PAL) Program: Act for Justice 2022 Narrative

West Virginia v. EPA
Activists at the Supreme Court rallying before the West Virginia v. EPA case was heard.
Photo by Heather Moyer

The Sierra Club was all about acting for justice in 2022! The Policy Advocacy and Legal (PAL) Unit, comprising Federal Policy, State, Democracy, Labor and Economic Justice, Water/Toxics and the Environmental Law Programs (ELP), racked up impressive wins and solidarity actions. The PAL team cohesively works with all other units of the Sierra Club to maximize solutions and remedies with our community allies and partners (including being the only environmental organization on the national Five Tables: Climate Action Campaign, Blue Green Alliance, Green New Deal, Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, Building Equity Alignment Initiative). PAL’s advocates, thought leaders, strategists and legal experts worked to: restore access to clean air and water, provide affordable clean energy, support family-sustaining jobs, and address inequities in our response to climate disruptions by winning racial justice-centered environmental victories that transform the current extractive and exploitative economy to one that is restorative and just for all.

The Democracy Program (led by Courtney Hight and Tishan Weerasooriya) has become a trusted partner with the civil rights and good government coalitions in the area of judicial nominations. Working closely with all the programs in PAL, the Democracy Program was able to add the value of the Sierra Club to the fight to confirm Kentanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman on the US Supreme Court. We also focused on pushing the US Senate to swiftly fill as many judicial vacancies as possible and worked closely with Earthjustice and League of Conservation Voters to engage our environmental allies. We supported a paid phone program and digital ads, generating calls and emails into Senate offices raising public awareness around Justice Jackson and lower court nominees; we organized letters supporting swift confirmations, the importance of judges with diverse professional and personal backgrounds, and who accept the science and congressional design underpinning environmental laws. To date, the Senate has confirmed 95 of President Biden's judicial nominees! 

Our Labor and Economic Justice Program (directed by Derrick Figures) spent 2022 working in solidarity with the Jobs to Move America (JMA), unions, and worker's rights coalitions supporting, for example, Bessemer, Alabama Amazon workers to help them form a union. There is still much work to be done across the South, such as in Mason, Tennessee where Ford is building an electric vehicle plant. According to our Labor and Economic Director, Derrick Figures, Our theory of change is that we can’t have an equitable energy transition for all communities without unfettered access to union jobs. Communities, particularly communities of color, have to be intentionally educated, organized, and included in discussions about what the transition to equitable clean energy means for them in terms of health, wealth, and their families’ futures.” Just Transition Representative Ousman Cheek, has been contributing through platforms such as Instagram

The Living Economy Program (directed by Hebah Kassem) ramped up its advocacy to reduce toxic pollution and the broader environmental and health impacts of industrial production, which could greatly improve the health and safety of communities located along the fence lines of industrial facilities. The White House announced a series of new Buy Clean initiatives that make significant moves toward cleaning up the supply chain, supported by coalitions of labor, justice, and environmental groups of which the Sierra Club is a part. These actions by the Biden administration included establishing a Buy Clean Task Force, convening stakeholders at the federal, state, and private sector to expand the purchase of lower-carbon materials made by American workers, requiring major federal contractors to publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing clean procurement standards.

The Environmental Law Program (directed by Joanne Spalding) achieved major victories in litigation and administrative proceedings supporting all of Sierra Club’s national campaigns in 2022, making significant progress in equitably transitioning the electric sector to renewable energy, electrifying buildings and vehicles, thwarting fracked gas pipelines and exports, limiting fossil fuel production, and protecting public lands and the species that depend on them. Because state and regional differences call for different approaches, ELP lawyers worked in close consultation with campaign staff, chapter and volunteer leaders, and community partners to develop individualized legal strategies for each campaign target. By partnering with community groups and incorporating equity considerations into our legal arguments, we achieved victories in multiple proceedings that combined climate goals with greater protections for environmental justice communities and greater access to affordable, clean energy for low-income and minority communities. 

Our work to decarbonize the electric sector continued apace in 2022, and we parlayed our deep expertise in state utility commission proceedings into successful advocacy for building and vehicle electrification. Along with our state-based work, we advocated for and defended strong federal rules to reduce pollution from power plants, vehicles and buildings. Supporting federal agencies in building a solid legal basis for these safeguards is critical given the Supreme Court’s adverse decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which invalidated EPA’s landmark rule limiting carbon pollution from coal plants. The pace of rulemaking in the Biden administration has been slow, but we expect much more regulatory action in 2023. The Inflation Reduction Act presents a tremendous opportunity to accelerate the process of decarbonizing the grid and electrifying vehicles and buildings. We are already deeply engaged in advocacy to ensure that the Act is implemented effectively and equitably. Given the need for market and grid reforms to reliably integrate high levels of renewable energy and storage, we tripled the size of our team handling electric sector proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs).

Our litigation stopped coal, oil, and gas production on tens of millions of acres of onshore and offshore public lands in 2022. We also filed over a dozen state and federal lawsuits and contested administrative proceedings challenging proposed and expanding liquified natural gas export facilities on the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Several of these sites are near environmental justice communities. We will continue to work closely with these communities as we litigate these cases in 2023.

Voting rights protest-Louise Pathe-2021
Taken at Indivisible Eastside's Deadline for Democracy in Redmond, WA on July 10, 2021.
Photo by Louise Pathe

The State Program worked hand in glove to monitor President Biden’s Justice 40 Initiative (40 percent of federal benefits directed for disadvantaged communities) through an extensive dashboard with the state chapters. Jen Hensley and Taylor Becker conducted the annual State Colloquium Conference, in which over 100 state and national staff participate in workshops to network on upcoming state legislatures. The State Program also produces analysis and opportunities for actions in the legislatures and state agencies – as an example, in 2022, 15 states had legislation mentioning “clean, green or renewable hydrogen” through key coalitions. The State Program is also laying the groundwork for the critically important Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) implementation in the states, supported by Deputy PAL Director Dalal Aboulhosn. 

The Water Program (directed by Beth Roach) was created by the PAL Program this year, with the help of Sonya Lunder and Beth Roach. As the Sierra Club continues to push for cleaner forms of energy, reliable tools for dealing with the climate crisis, and protected natural places for all, we must also ensure the health and well-being of communities. We must guarantee access to safe, quality water, and a healthy environment for future generations. We must focus our work on the communities and support and connect the work on water and toxic chemicals to ensure people can thrive. This project has two mutually dependent goals:

  • Grow a movement by elevating new and existing voices of advocates from diverse backgrounds, especially communities and constituencies that have been historically excluded from or under-represented at decision-making tables, yet bear the greatest burdens brought on by water pollution and other threats.

  • Protect and, where possible, strengthen protections and government funding for clean water, toxic pollution, and climate resilience in the United States. 

The Federal Policy team (led by Melinda Pierce) regularly supports other parts of the organization through rulemaking technical and analytical support (led by Patrick Drupp), in conjunction and collaboration with our campaigns and ELP. A focus has been a Public Health Rules campaign, directed at the EPA and the White House, on rules such as the methane supplemental rule, the particulate matter or soot standard, and the heavy-duty trucks rule.

Additionally, members of this team (including Leslie Fields and Mahyar Sorour) facilitated increased environmental justice (EJ) community involvement in FERC processes, with Chairman Glick and with the Office of Public Participation, which raised EJ concerns higher up the FERC agenda. To that end, Talia Calnek-Sugin helped facilitate the first FERC tour with Chairman Glick and staff of impacted communities in southwest Louisiana and the Texas Gulf Coast. Also within Federal Policy, our Lands crew (led by Athan Manuel) has been on the forefront of the Biden administration designating federal monuments and historic sites, including Camp Hale and Avi Kwa Ame.

Grassroots Victory for Historic Climate Investments in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) In August, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was officially signed into law after a long fight led by the Living Economy and Federal Policy teams at Sierra Club to help pass the largest investments ever in climate action, environmental justice, and family-sustaining jobs. The IRA includes more than 100 programs that will invest nearly $370 billion to address the interlocking crises of climate change, rising healthcare and energy costs, economic inequity, and racial and environmental injustice. While this is not the climate bill we wanted and it is nowhere near the end of the climate action we need, it is a beginning, and it will put money in the pockets of families across the country while potentially reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The IRA, however, contained horrible leasing and permitting provisions that targeted communities, such as in the Gulf South, Appalachia, and Alaska, unacceptable and increased fossil fuel development. Due to the fantastic power of the Federal and State advocacy teams, the odious permitting bill was kept from being added to continuing resolutions and the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Together, we are driving change to bring us closer to a just world for all. So much of our accomplishments this year are the result of collaboration, solidarity, and strategic and holistic planning for powerful results. I can’t wait to continue this work with you in 2023 – we’ve got lots more to do.