(AP) – Billions of dollars in climate and environmental investments could flow to communities in the United States that have been plagued by pollution and climate threats for decades if the proposed Inflation Reduction Act becomes law. The bill, announced by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin last month, could also begin a transition to clean energy in regions still dominated by fossil fuels.
But there are also provisions in the bill that support the expansion of fossil fuels. And some who live and work where climate and environmental injustices are the norm worry that those parts of the bill force their communities to accept further damage from pollution in order to protect their health from climate change.
“Environmental justice communities once again appear to be placed in the precarious position of accepting dangerous carbon capture and sequestration technologies, more pollution, and unfair health ‘trade-offs’ in order to obtain environmental and climate benefits, ” Robert Bullard, a. professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston, told The Associated Press after reading the bill. Bullard is also a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
However, experts say the proposed climate and environmental justice provisions in the bill, along with other federal investments in reducing pollution and avoiding climate damage, are historic and could mean a generational shift in environmental health for some. US regions.
“In the last two years, there’s probably more money that’s been invested in these communities than in the last 20 years,” said Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The regions that could benefit most from the proposed $45 billion in environmental and climate justice are port communities threatened by sea level rise and areas dominated by the fossil fuel economy.
That’s the case for Kim Gaddy, who serves as the port commissioner for the city of Newark and lives there. Gaddy said air pollution from the city’s diesel trucks, and traffic coming in and out of the Port of Newark, is a major contributor to the city’s high rate of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions, which is nearly 50% of black.
“Pollution from our ports is a huge problem,” Gaddy said. “We have so much oil pollution in our communities because some of the older trucks are still allowed in and out of the port and then there are all the highways and side roads that are part of all the freight movement. This has a huge impact on our community.”
There’s $7 billion in the bill that could help communities like Gaddy’s — $4 billion to create a fleet of zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and $3 billion in grants to clean up air pollution in ports. And 40% of the overall benefits from these investments would go toward underserved communities as part of the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative.
Gaddy said federal investments like those proposed in the Inflation Reduction Act would help Newark “tremendously.”
“We would see cleaner trucks in our community and transportation would also change,” she said. “There are many individuals who rely on public buses, so our buses need to be electrified or have cleaner technology.”
Newark is not the only port city with a predominantly non-white population and poor air quality. Cities like Oakland and Los Angeles in California, Houston and New Orleans have some of the busiest ports in the US and poor air quality and predominantly black or Latino populations surrounding the ports.
Two of these cities, Houston and New Orleans, are dominated by the fossil fuel industry and have already experienced some extreme weather events made more intense by climate change.
Environmental and climate justice communities in both of these cities could benefit from numerous provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, experts said. There is also $2.6 billion for coastal climate resilience projects, $3 billion in block grants earmarked for environmental and climate justice programs, and $7 billion for pollution cleanup.
But one of the biggest investments proposed in this bill is $27 billion to create a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The fund, modeled after green banks established in states such as Connecticut, New York and California, will invest in clean energy projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Like several provisions in this bill, the fund was originally proposed in the Build Back Better legislation that failed to pass Congress last year as a key piece of climate and environmental policy to clean up air pollution and transition from fossil fuels to cleaner sources. clean energy.
Katherine Hamilton, co-founder and president of clean energy and innovation consulting firm 38 North Solutions, has been a leading advocate for the creation of a green bank at the federal level. She said it would help accelerate investment in clean energy projects around the US and help regions where fossil fuel industries are the main source of economic activity, such as the Gulf Coast or Appalachia.
“We find ourselves in a position where people are left behind who shouldn’t be left behind,” said Hamilton, whose family is from Appalachia. “Their whole ecosystem…. it’s built around an industry that died and they’re left with…. not being able to understand how they can be part of the future and this bill, and this fund specifically, will hopefully allow those communities to begin to see themselves as part of the future.
But while there is much hope for what the Inflation Reduction Act could bring to communities, there is also reluctance with parts of the bill that experts said support the fossil fuel industry. One is a provision that requires the federal government to lease a certain amount of its public lands for oil and gas extraction whenever it leases public lands for solar and wind power generation.
“There are things in this package that are poison pills for our communities. So while there are investments in environmental justice and investments in clean energy, we need to be clear in our assessment,” said Adrien Salazar, director of policy for the Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, a climate justice nonprofit. “There are things that will hurt the people who live on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction, pollution and the climate crisis.”
BY DREW COSTLEY AP Science Writer
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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