USA - Can the Inflation Reduction Act Advance Climate Justice?
One year ago, UCS worked in coalition with many other organizations to help pass the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a law with historic climate provisions that includes numerous programs, policies, and a $369 billion investment that will drive significant cuts in heat-trapping emissions across our economy.
The number of provisions in the IRA aimed at accelerating the transition towards clean energy are plentiful and evident, but most programs were not written into law with the intent to center marginalized communities. And, some programs missed the mark entirely and create the risk of continuing to prop up fossil fuel extraction, which would harm communities and our climate.
All told, between the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), IRA, and prior funding, there are now levels of funding for climate action and infrastructure similar to the investments during the New Deal era that shaped our entire society. Coupled with the Biden Administration’s Justice 40 initiative and racial equity executive order, federal agencies also are tasked with implementing the IRA programs in ways that help tackle racial and economic inequality. EJ and climate justice advocates have long sought this.
But, in the past, inequality was baked into nearly every system and institution funded by the New Deal. With the funding available today, we must do better and focus on equity and justice right from the start. And, with communities’ needs at stake—and the clock ticking towards statutory spending deadlines—there is not a moment to lose to implement programs.
As a former federal program manager, I know that doing all this through competitive grants will require technical savvy and tremendous community capacity to organize and attract the funds communities deserve.
The IRA’s funding opportunities lie in a web of agencies and programs
Historically, few programs from the federal government have allowed for entities to holistically solve multiple complicated, technical, and social problems. Now, with IRA funding, and an aligned EPA leadership and administration, there’s a chance.
Take for example the problem of energy access for low-income households and marginalized communities. At UCS, we recognize that to meet the needs of communities with high energy burdens, it is important to have much more opportunity for distributed electricity generation with storage, owned, and controlled by residents of the community. Unfortunately, today, there are not only barriers from the grid perspective, but also incredible obstacles with the condition of housing stock. Many low-income homeowners need physical upgrades to their homes before they can contemplate investing in energy efficiency or solar upgrades. Some need infrastructure for basic human needs like clean water and sanitation and safe indoor air as well.