Biden’s bill includes $60bn for environmental investments, but groups that would benefit most face hurdles in accessing funds
By Yessenia Funes
When President Joe Biden passed the Inflation Reduction Act a year ago, Adrien Salazar was skeptical.
The landmark climate bill includes $60bn for environmental justice investments – money he had fought for, as policy director for the leading US climate advocacy coalition Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA).
But after much discussion, the grassroots group realized they did not have the resources to chase after IRA funding. It would have to hire new staff and develop a specific program to apply for grants to access those funds. The coalition is stretched thin as is: organizing local and state campaigns, leading community engagement, and planning youth programming. GGJA decided it would not apply to funding opportunities at all.
“It is not within our capacity to try to build a program that helps our members access federal funding. We just don’t have the capacity to do that,” Salazar said. Many employees lack the time or knowhow to take on grant opportunities.
“We’re a national organization. How can we imagine a small organization that’s doing neighborhood, grassroots-level door-knocking to have the capacity to also navigate the federal bureaucracy?”
Indeed, many of the small, community-based organizations that would benefit from funding the most are facing hurdles to competing for these investments.
Together, their experiences tell a story that echoes other environmental justice experts’ concerns about the IRA – that the monumental spending package won’t assist the communities that need the money the most.
Last year, advocates speaking to the Guardian criticized the bill for its many concessions to the fossil fuel industry: “This new bill is genocide, there is no other way to put it,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, co-founder of the Indigenous-led environmental justice group Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. Salazar felt similarly: how could he trust the federal government to allocate those billions of dollars to communities of color when it still fails to protect them from polluters?
Maria Lopez-Nuñez, a member of the White House environmental justice advisory council, remains wary of whether the money set aside for environmental justice priorities will outweigh the damage done by the legislation’s further investment in fossil fuels.
“On one hand, there’s incredible amounts of money out there for communities to actually deal with the issues at hand,” said Lopez-Nuñez. “On the other hand, there are even larger investments in climate scams that are going to hit communities fast and hard,” she added, referring to IRA money set aside for carbon capture and sequestration, as well as hydrogen projects.