Tens of billions of dollars in IRA funding will now be earmarked for environmental justice

As funding becomes available for America’s groundbreaking Clean Energy and Climate Act, many of the benefits will now be officially reserved for underserved communities.

Programs totaling $118 billion in federal funding through the Inflation Reduction Act will now be required to ensure that at least 40 percent of advantages they bring power to underserved communities across the US. The Biden administration today updated its list of federal programs that are part of its Justice40 Initiative, a document it first shared The edge.

President Joe Biden launched the Justice40 program in 2021 with an executive order. It stipulates that “the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.” To be clear, this does not mean that 40 percent of the funding will be for these groups, but only for the “benefits” (more on that later).

“For far too long, communities that have borne the brunt of power plants and industrial pollution have been left out and left behind.”

The list of federal programs covered by the initiative includes – for the first time – measures funded through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed last year. In total, the 74 new IRA programs represent $118 billion in federal funding. That includes programs aimed at reducing pollution, promoting clean energy and workforce development, restoring habitats and helping communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as more intense heat waves and wildfires.

The IRA outlines $369 billion in new spending on clean energy and climate programs, the largest such investment the US has made to date. Much of the funding comes in the form of clean energy tax credits, which are not covered by the Justice40 Initiative. In addition to accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies, the IRA was also intended to create jobs and fund measures to better protect communities from climate change.

Low-income households, Americans of color, and other groups historically marginalized in the U.S. tend to face greater risks from pollution and climate disasters. “For far too long, communities that have borne the brunt of power plants and industrial pollution have been left out and left behind,” John Podesta, senior advisor to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation, said in a news release. Bringing together the Justice40 Initiative and the IRA could change that.

Many of the efforts to end these disparities are already in the works. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Green and Resilient Retrofit Program is one of the IRA-funded programs that will now be part of the Justice40 Initiative. So far, it has given 1,500 low-income households $100 million for renovations to make their homes more energy efficient and resilient to climate change.

Now, the Justice40 Initiative will hold the Department and other IRA programs accountable to ensuring that communities most in need of federal funding receive at least 40 percent of the benefits.

Certainly, there have been arguments about how the initiative decides who is “disadvantaged” and what counts as an “advantage.” The Biden administration has created a Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to help federal agencies identify which communities may be disadvantaged based on the amount of pollution they are exposed to and certain socioeconomic factors.

However, racial demographics are not included in the tool’s methodology. That caused a rapid backlash this year, as many communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution and “natural disasters.” Black Americans are expected to face more severe impacts from climate change — including extreme temperatures, flooding and poor air quality — than other demographic groups, according to a 2021 EPA report.

How each federal program’s 40 percent of “benefits” is calculated can also vary from agency to agency. It does not necessarily mean that 40 percent of the money ends up in the hands of the communities. Instead, it could reflect, for example, the percentage of pollutants reduced or the number of hectares of green space created.

Global climate negotiations begin tomorrow at a United Nations conference in Dubai. Biden is expected to skip the conference, where economically developing countries will also push for environmental justice – especially through financing richer, more polluting countries, such as the US, to make up for the losses and damage they have suffered from climate change .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *