Senate bill: Health vs. harm
Investments could flow to communities long plagued by pollution and climate threats
Billions of dollars in climate and environment 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 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last month, could also jump-start a transition to clean energy in regions still dominated by fossil fuels.
But there are also provisions in the bill that are supportive of fossil fuel expansion. And some who live and work where climate and environmental injustices are the norm worry those parts of the bill force their communities to accept further harm from pollution in order to protect their health from climate change
“Environmental justice communities once again appear to be placed in a precarious position of having to accept risky carbon capture and sequestration technologies, more pollution, and unfair health ‘trade-offs’ in order to get environmental and climate benefits,” Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston, said after reading the bill. Bullard is also a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Still, experts say the proposed climate and environmental justice provisions, along with other federal investments in pollution reduction and climate damage avoidance, could mean a generational shift in environmental health in parts of the U.S.
“Over the last two years, there’s probably more money being invested in these communities than over the last 20 years,” said Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
The regions that could most benefit from the roughly $45 billion proposed for environmental and climate justice are port communities threatened by rising sea levels and areas dominated by the fossil fuel economy.
That’s the case for Kim Gaddy, who serves as a port commissioner for Newark, New Jersey, and lives there. Gaddy said the air pollution from diesel trucks in the city, and entering and leaving the Port of Newark, are a major contributor to high rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions in the city, which is nearly 50% Black.
There is $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 at ports. And 40% of overall benefits from those investments would go toward underserved communities.
Cities such as Oakland and Los Angeles in California, Houston and New Orleans also have some of the busiest ports in the U.S., and predominantly Black or Latino populations surrounding the ports.
But while there is a lot of hope for the Inflation Reduction Act, there is also hesitation with parts of the bill that experts say prop up the fossil fuel industry. One is a provision that requires the federal government to lease public lands for oil and gas extraction whenever it leases public lands for solar and wind energy generation.
“There are things in this package that are poison pills for our communities. So while there are environmental justice investments and clean energy investments, we have to be clear-eyed in our assessment,” said Adrien Salazar, policy director for the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a climate justice nonprofit.