Democrats’ Climate Bill Will Affect Polluted Communities Hardest

Democrats were able to pass their broad Inflation Reduction Act thanks to a last-minute addition of oil and gas projects, but activists for minorities and low-income communities are concerned that the compromise will hurt them.

The act is the most comprehensive action taken by the United States government to combat climate change to date, and it makes an effort to specifically aid communities that have been hit hardest by the pollution fueling global warming, such as those located in close proximity to major transportation corridors, industrial facilities, and ports.

These emissions have both a warming effect on the planet and a negative impact on human health. But the transition to more environmentally friendly modes of transportation and manufacturing has been expensive and contentious.

About $370 billion in climate-related initiatives are included in the IRA, signed into law by President Biden earlier this month, with $60 billion targeted toward helping communities of color and low-income populations, who tend to live closest to ports, highways, and industrial plants as a result of redlining and other historical discrimination.

It also includes fossil fuel concessions that give oil and gas companies first dibs on leasing millions of acres of public land, as well as leasing rights in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. These were included to win over West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin to a plan that faced unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate. Advocates argue that the communities currently hardest hit by pollution and climate change will feel the effects of the increased emissions caused by the fossil fuel allowances the most acutely.

Nicole Wong, of the Greenlining Institute, a think tank that aids communities of color in confronting climate change, called the concessions “unacceptable.”

She argued that low-income communities of color will bear the heaviest burden of oil and gas pollution even if “we make these tremendous advances” in investing in renewable energy and clean mobility.
The Inflation Reduction Act was designed to help “frontline communities,” or those most directly affected by pollution and climate change.

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Its broad goals include assisting the United States in meeting its 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and promoting the use of renewable energy sources. However, the law’s primary provisions were written with the intention of rectifying past injustices that had contributed to pollution in vulnerable populations.

Money from the act will go toward cleaning up fossil fuel pollution in ports and around industrial areas, creating local jobs in renewable-energy technology, and assisting with housing and transportation programs that help people save money on their energy bills.

Three billion dollars are designated for zero-emission equipment and technology at ports, three billion dollars are designated for climate justice block grants to address the disproportionate environmental and public health harms in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and three billion dollars are designated to reconnect neighborhoods divided by infrastructure barriers and harmed by crowded, polluting transportation routes, which have historically been a problem in neighborhoods populated by people of color.

Matt Petersen, CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI), a non-profit pursuing initiatives and technology to create a green economy, has announced that the rebate for electric vehicles ($7,500 for new vehicles) has been increased to $4,000 for used vehicles if they are purchased in frontline communities. The rebate is an improvement on previous tax credits, which necessitated a substantial tax charge and made the buyer wait many months to receive the money back.

That’s something people will be able to see and feel, he added, “because even if gas is only $3 or $4 a gallon, instead of $5 a gallon, that’s such a tremendous burden for a lot of folks,” particularly those who have to drive long distances to get to work. You can include the refund in the loan for the car and use the money toward the down payment.

He noted that although the proposal does not provide major funding for public transit and alternative transportation options like electric bicycles, the rebates and other features could boost ride-share and other transportation services that have become popular in frontline areas.

According to U.S. Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), whose bills on ports and climate justice were included in the IRA, the legislation will provide targeted assistance to communities experiencing the greatest repercussions of pollution and climate change.

Barragán, whose district includes the Port of Los Angeles and truck-clogged roads, expressed her dissatisfaction with the fossil fuel measures but acknowledged that the bill was a significant step forward in the fight against climate change.

She emphasized the importance of ensuring that the money allocated for transitioning to zero-emission, clean-energy sources reaches the community and is used for that purpose. A positive development, but more effort is required.