Cut Inflation Act dedicates resources to environmental justice

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The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) reflects the Biden administration’s attention to issues of environmental justice and environmental equity. The IRA, directly and indirectly, invests in ecologically overburdened communities by: (1) seeking to reduce historical sources of pollution; (2) provide affordable and accessible clean energy sources to disadvantaged communities; and (3) investing in communities to provide better jobs and address quality of life issues.

Pollution-focused funding

The IRA includes various grant programs to address emissions, air pollution and other historic pollution issues. The big ticket laundry list includes:

  • $11 billion in funding from the reinstatement of the Superfund tax, intended to replenish funding for cleanups in communities that are disproportionately low-income or otherwise overburdened by sources of pollution.

  • $3 billion in funding for Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants to invest in community-based projects in disadvantaged communities to address issues such as public health harm from pollution and climate change.

  • $3 billion in Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants to support a competitive grant program aimed at addressing infrastructure issues, mitigating impacts associated with transportation facilities, and supporting equitable transportation planning.

  • $3 billion in grants and rebates to reduce air pollution in ports, with funding targeted to areas with historically poor air quality and to develop climate action plans.

  • $1 billion to establish a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to cover incremental costs associated with zero-emission school buses, garbage trucks, and transit buses, with a focus particular on equipment operated in areas where the air quality is degraded; and

  • $236 million for enhanced air pollution monitoring to benefit disadvantaged communities with persistent air quality issues.

Access to clean energy

The IRA contains a new credit to the EPA called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which provides increased and new funding under the Clean Air Act. The EPA will provide direct grants to start clean energy initiatives in low-income and disadvantaged communities. Qualified projects will reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution, in partnership with or by leveraging private sector investment; or help communities reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution. The credit sets aside 2% of EPA funding to administer the programs.

Of this amount, $7 billion is allocated to the deployment of technologies such as rooftop or community solar power in low-income and disadvantaged communities and $8 billion to a general fund making large investments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in these communities.

Investing in communities

Finally, the ERI provides funding for various grant programs intended to benefit environmentally overstretched communities and increase climate-related resilience efforts. These include:

  • $1.5 billion to plant trees, establish community and urban forests, and expand green spaces.

  • $550 million to ensure disadvantaged communities can plan, design and build water supply projects, focusing on communities or households that do not have reliable access to safe drinking water.

  • $397 million to tribal governments to support the transition to renewable energy; to deal with drinking water shortages, drought relief and wildlife protection programs; and to fund programs related to resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Related Environmental Justice Efforts

President Biden has elevated environmental justice, equity issues, and the IRA is following suit. President Biden issued EO 13985 on his first day in office to broadly require executive departments and agencies to “recognize and work to correct inequities in their policies and programs that constitute barriers to equal opportunity” . Shortly thereafter, the Biden administration announced the “Justice40 Initiative” (see here), setting a goal that 40% of benefits from certain federal programs go to “marginalized, underserved, and pollution-burdened communities.” The Biden administration reported that between January 2021 and May 2022, programs included by Justice40 totaled more than $29 billion in opportunities.

Biden Administration EJ’s efforts go beyond funding. EPA staff, including Administrator Michael Regan, emphasized in their speeches that “environmental justice is not an add-on or an afterthought – it is a central driving factor in everything we do. “. (See our discussion here.) EPA’s “Fairness Action Plan” released in April committed the EPA – among other things – to increasing community engagement, focusing on equity in procurement and contracts, and to use federal civil rights laws and a “whole of government” approach to advance environmental compliance. (See our discussion here.) An example of this approach is the recent discovery by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development labeling the City of Chicago’s efforts to move a recycling facility from a wealthy, majority-white neighborhood to a community which had previously been classified as “environmentally overloaded” as being problematic from the point of view of the JE. (See our discussion here.)

© 2022 ArentFox Schiff LLPNational Law Review, Volume XII, Number 234

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