Today marks the one-year anniversary of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a law that was hailed as a victory for environmental justice, with a few notable dissenters, including Taproot Earth.
The main purposes of the bill were to:
*Subsidize “clean” energy
*Direct investments to communities who have bore the brunt of environmental racism
*Encourage U.S. manufacturing while discouraging imports from China
*Support organized labor
*Lower prescription drug costs
One year is not enough time to evaluate whether the provisions in the bill will make it to frontline communities. What we know is that federal money that will benefit fossil fuel companies is already flowing in the form of subsidies for dirty hydrogen and carbon capture sequestration (CCS), technologies that distract us from tackling the root of the climate crisis. If all of the projects that have already been announced are built, Black and Indigenous communities in places like Southern Louisiana will continue to be sacrifice zones.
Unfortunately, CCS does not reduce our ecological footprint. In addition to technical difficulties, carbon capture requires a lot of energy and resources. Prior to the IRA, relatively few projects were able to secure funding and those that received government funding tended to fail. The IRA is rescuing CCS and the oil and gas industry, which is why companies like ExxonMobil have begun buying carbon capture companies like Denbury, and Shell has announced plans to refocus on oil and gas instead of renewable energy.
Most of the environmental justice gains within the IRA take the form of competitive grants. This means that nonprofit organizations, states, and tribes may submit applications for limited pots of money. This money may not be used on political advocacy, which is central to many environmental justice organizations’ missions. Applying for federal grant money also requires dedicated staffing, accounting and administration, which requires seasoned nonprofits to operate as technical assistance centers, sometimes at the expense of movement or organizing work.
In transparency, Taproot Earth is not applying for any federal grant money, nor are we playing a technical assistance role. We will continue to direct inquiries to our allies, including NDN Collective, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and Emerald Cities Collaborative, who have taken up implementation and technical assistance to ensure resources go to frontline communities that too often are left behind.
There are some benefits to the IRA. One positive aspect of the bill is that nonprofits and public utilities are eligible for direct pay, which is a technical change that will make it easier for energy utilities, states, tribes and nonprofits to transition to renewable energy.
While the climate crisis is multi-layered and complex, one thing is clear: We do not have time to waste on false solutions that attempt incremental progress at the expense of those who are fighting for clean water, safe homes, and rebuilding after hurricanes and wildfires. Frontline communities need to be afforded the right to self-determination around advancing whether they remain or migrate and what’s in store for their climate futures. In addition, they deserve a share of the benefits of economic development, such as community benefit agreements as part of offshore wind contracts that prioritize frontline communities that were left behind by the oil and gas industry. This is the way we make meaningful progress.