Lawyers: the Senate bill means environmental health, even harm

Billions of dollars in climate and environmental investments could flow to US communities that have been plagued by pollution and climate threats for decades if the proposed inflation reduction law becomes law. The bill, announced by senses Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin last month, could also kick-start the 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 fear those parts of the bill will 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 in a precarious position of having to accept risky carbon capture and sequestration technologies, more pollution and unfair health ‘trade-offs’ in order to achieve 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’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

However, experts say the climate and environmental justice provisions proposed in this bill, along with other federal investments in pollution reduction and climate damage prevention, are historic and could mean a generational shift in environmental health for some. regions of the United States

“In the past two years, more money has probably been invested in these communities than in the past 20 years,” said Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

The regions that could benefit most from the approximately $ 45 billion proposed for environmental and climate justice are port communities threatened by rising sea levels and areas dominated by the fossil fuel economy.

This is the case of Kim Gaddy, who serves as a port commissioner for the city of Newark and lives there. Gaddy said air pollution from diesel trucks in the city and entering and exiting the Port of Newark are a major contributing factor to the high rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions in the city, which is nearly the 50% black.

“The pollution of our ports is a huge problem,” Gaddy said. “We get so much diesel pollution in our communities because some of the older trucks can still get in and out of the port and then there are all the highways and back roads that are part of the whole freight movement. our community “.

There is $ 7 billion in the bill that could help communities like Gaddy’s: $ 4 billion to create a zero-emission heavy vehicle fleet and $ 3 billion in grants to clean up air pollution in ports. And 40% of the overall benefits of such investments would go to disadvantaged 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 change too,” he said. “There are a lot of people who rely on public buses, so our buses need to be electrified or have cleaner technology.”

Newark isn’t 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 United States 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 several extreme weather events made more intense by climate change.

The environmental and climate justice communities in both of these cities could benefit from multiple provisions of the law on reducing inflation, 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 the 27 billion dollars for the establishment of a Fund for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The fund, modeled on 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 which was not passed by Congress last year as a key element of climate and environmental policy to clean up air pollution and switch from fuels. fossils to cleaner energy sources.

Katherine Hamilton, co-founder and president of clean energy and innovation consultancy 38 North Solutions, has been a major proponent of setting up a federal green bank. She said she would help accelerate investments in clean energy projects in the United States and in aid regions where fossil fuel industries are the main source of economic activity, such as on the Gulf Coast or the Appalachians.

“We are in a position where people who shouldn’t be left behind are left behind,” said Hamilton, whose family is originally from the Appalachians. “Their entire ecosystem…. it’s built around an industry that has died and is left to them … not being able to understand how they can be a part of the future and this bill, and this fund in particular, will hopefully allow those communities to get started to see themselves as part of the future “.

But while there is much hope for what the Inflation Reduction Act can bring to communities, there is also hesitation with parts of the bill that experts say support the fossil fuel industry. One of these is a provision requiring the federal government to lease a certain amount of its public land for oil and gas extraction whenever it leases public land for solar and wind power generation.

“There are things in this package that are poison pills for our communities. So while there is investment in environmental justice and investment in clean energy, we need to be clear in our assessment, ”said Adrien Salazar, political director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a non-profit organization for climate justice. these are things that will harm the people living at the forefront of fossil fuel extraction, pollution and the climate crisis. “


Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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