Senate Bill Means Environmental Health, Too Harm

BY DREW COSTLEY, AP Science Editor

Billions of dollars in climate and environmental investments could flow to communities across the United States that have been plagued by pollution and climate threats for decades, if the Cut Inflation Bill becomes law. The bill, announced by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin last month could also kick-start a clean energy transition 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 that these parts of the bill will force their communities to accept more pollution damage, in order to protect their health from climate change.

“Environmental justice communities once again seem to be placed in a precarious position of having to accept risky carbon capture and sequestration technologies, more pollution, and unfair health ‘tradeoffs’ in order to obtain 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 Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Yet experts say the climate and environmental justice provisions proposed in this bill, along with other federal investments in reducing pollution and preventing climate damage, are historic and could mean a generational shift in matters. environmental health for certain regions of the United States.

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“Over the past two years, there’s probably more money being invested in these communities than there has been over the past 20 years,” said Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. .

The regions that stand to benefit the 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 is harbor commissioner for the city of Newark and lives there. Gaddy said air pollution from diesel trucks in the city, and entering and leaving the Port of Newark, is a major contributor to high rates of childhood asthma and other respiratory conditions in the city. , which is almost 50% black.

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

There’s $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. air in ports. And 40% of the overall benefits of these investments would go to underserved 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 “significantly.”

“We would see cleaner trucks in our community and transportation would also change,” she said. “Many people rely on public buses, so our buses need to be electrified or have cleaner technology.”

Newark isn’t the only port city with a mostly 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 these two cities could benefit from several provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, experts said. There’s 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 cleanup.

But one of the most significant investments proposed in this bill is the $27 billion for the creation of a greenhouse gas reduction fund. The fund, inspired by established green banks in states like Connecticut, New York and California, will invest in clean energy projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Like several provisions of this bill, the fund was originally proposed in the Build Back Better legislation that failed to pass Congress last year as a key part of climate and environmental policy to clean up the air pollution and switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

Katherine Hamilton, co-founder and president of clean energy and innovation consultancy 38 North Solutions, has been a strong advocate for the creation of a green bank at the federal level. She said it would help accelerate investments in clean energy projects in the United States and help regions where fossil fuel industries are the main source of economic activity, such as on the Gulf Coast or Appalachia. .

“We find ourselves in a position where people are being left behind who shouldn’t be left behind,” said Hamilton, whose family is from Appalachia. “Their whole ecosystem…. is built around an industry that is dead and they are left with…. not being able to understand how they can be part of the future and this bill, and this fund in particular, will hopefully allow those communities to start seeing themselves as part of the future.

But while there is great hope for what the Cut Inflation Act can bring to communities, there is also hesitation with parts of the bill that experts say support the industry. fossil fuels. One of them is a provision that requires 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 are investments in environmental justice and investments in clean energy, we need to be clear-headed in our assessment,” said Adrien Salazar, policy director of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a nonprofit organization. nonprofit for climate justice. “There are things that will hurt people who live on the front lines of fossil fuel extraction, pollution and the climate crisis.”

Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Norman D. Briggs