Baltimore Sun

Senate bill: Health vs. harm

Investment­s could flow to communitie­s long plagued by pollution and climate threats

- By Drew Costley

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.

 ?? JULIO CORTEZ/AP ?? Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, poses Tuesday in Bowie.
JULIO CORTEZ/AP Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, poses Tuesday in Bowie.

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