Sneha Ayyagari

Clean Energy Initiative Program Manager

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This summer’s intense heat has wrought havoc across the country, exposing the perils of systemic environmental racism. For instance, neighborhoods with primarily Latinx residents experience temperatures that are four to five degrees warmer than the rest of the metro average. 

Environmental inequalities resulting from racist water, housing, and urban planning policies aren’t new. The ongoing water infrastructure crisis in Jackson, Mississippi that has rendered 150,000 mostly Black residents without access to safe water recalls the Flint, Michigan water crisis that first made headlines in 2014 and continues to impact the mostly Black residents living there today. As climate change reveals the historical failures of local, state, and federal governments to adequately invest in the resilience and safety of low income people of color, it’s clear that our climate initiatives going forward must prioritize equity if we are to right these wrongs, and create a better future for our communities. 

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION’S MASSIVE BUDGET PACKAGE, THE INFLATION REDUCTION ACT, FINALLY PROVIDES A PATH FORWARD FOR SUBSTANTIAL FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN EQUITABLE CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION. AND IT COMES IN THE NICK OF TIME.

As communities everywhere, but especially low-income communities of color that disproportionately bear the impacts of pollution and climate change, deal with worsening climate-related catastrophes, the IRA offers significant and urgently needed solutions including: 

  • $369 billion in clean energy and climate investments
  • Investments to spur the transition to a clean energy economy and generate more than 9 million jobs in the next ten years
  • $3 billion in environmental and climate justice block grants and $1.3 billion in neighborhood access and equity grant programs to promote community resilience and access to safe, affordable transportation
  • Roughly $40B toward environmental justice with funds for air monitoring, pollution reduction at ports and schools, increasing access to affordable safe transportation, etc.
  • $27 billion to fund a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund with significant money for green banks
  • Billions in direct incentives and tax credits for EVs and home electrification.

How we got here

Federal action from the U.S.-the largest historical contributor to emissions in the world-is both overdue and essential. But because of the partisan politics around climate change, the IRA stops short of the bold climate measures and care infrastructure the Biden Administration initially proposed in the scuttled Build Back Better bill. The trade-offs and compromises that led up to the passage of the IRA meant that measures that run contrary to our climate goals-namely, the expansion of harmful fossil fuel developments-ended up in the original deal to pass the IRA. However, thanks to pressure from outside advocates, Congress came together in a rare and helpful moment of alignment to oppose a separate side deal that would have included the worst of these measures.  While this is good news for now, we will continue to need bipartisan leadership and support to ensure future federal action moves us closer to achieving our climate goals and environmental justice.

Where we go from here

There are three important things to remember moving forward. 

  • First, the IRA is the floor, not the ceiling, of what is needed to combat the impacts of climate change. It is up to state legislatures to build on these investments with state programs to create holistic strategies for tackling the climate crisis. 
  • Second, the IRA followed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Recovery Act both of which included significant climate and equity aligned investments, meaning states have several sources of federal investments to implement. 
  • Finally, advocates must shift our focus to implementing investments equitably. Monitoring, evaluating, and shaping how federal investments are being implemented is the only way to ensure we maximize the impact of programs that will benefit low income communities of color. 

In our work at The Greenlining Institute, we bridge the gap between policymaker agendas and community priorities. From this, we’ve learned that there are critical “ingredients” for equity that must be baked into implementation to ensure benefits meaningfully reach those that need them most. Some of these ingredients include:

  • Community-driven program design and implementation that establishes paths towards wealth building.
  • Application of community investment standards to govern funds and programs intended to address inequity. 
  • Providing technical assistance to under-resourced groups (including low income communities of color) to secure and implement funding provided by the IRA.
  • Culturally tailored outreach, marketing, communication, and education on how to access the clean energy incentives included in the agreement. 
  • Streamlined application processes for programs that enable low income communities of color to access IRA benefits efficiently. 

If we don’t prioritize racial equity as the foundation of distributing funding, we run the risk of perpetuating the harms of the status quo with most of the funding going to those who already have the capacity to apply for those grants, such as wealthier cities and well funded NGOs. We know that without an effective community outreach plan and accessible technical assistance, many people that could benefit from these resources can go unaware of their existence. Building lasting capacity within communities to apply for funding and implement projects is essential. 

We have a huge opportunity to use this significant funding to meaningfully deliver the economic, environmental, and health benefits of the clean energy transition for communities that are most affected by pollution and poverty.

Sneha Ayyagari

Clean Energy Initiative Program Manager

Read Bio