The environmental justice provisions included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (“IRA”) continue the Biden Administration’s commitment to environmental justice. The administration has already demonstrated a consistent desire to build environmental justice into its programs through programs such as the Justice40 Initiative. This initiative directs 40% of the climate change, sustainability, and other investments in environmental and climate protection to communities that the United States has historically marginalized, underserved, or overburdened with pollution. EPA is also working to address environmental justice by making improvements to the NEPA process and the White House Council on Environmental Quality is working on an additional set of NEPA Phase 2 rules designed to promote environmental justice. EPA Administrator Regan has directed all EPA offices to update their adaptation plans to reflect Environmental Justice.
In addition to the work of EPA and the White House, DOJ is also working to promote environmental justice. DOJ introduced an Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy in May of this year and plans to prioritize cases where enforcement would achieve significant reductions of environmental harm, public health harm, or injury to natural resources in overburdened and underserved communities. In order to pursue this goal DOJ is renewing its use of supplemental environmental projects and is expanding the laws it brings environmental enforcement actions under to include statutes such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The IRA is the latest step in pursuing the Biden Administration’s environmental justice goals and it continues to push them forward by funding a variety of projects. The IRA would inject billions of dollars in funding into environmental justice initiatives and, according to Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), represent “…the most significant investment in environmental justice and climate action in American history.” President Biden said that it would make a “real” investment into environmental justice and many environmental groups have rushed to support the bill calling it “an incredible breakthrough.”
If passed the IRA would provide major incentives to produce clean energy and reduce pollution in low-income and disadvantaged communities. The act would provide tax breaks for up to 3.6 gigawatts of solar and wind generating capacity, enough to power millions of homes, in low-income communities. IRA § 13103. The act also allocates $4.75 billion to states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a focus on disadvantaged communities. IRA § 60114. The act would also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars specifically to tribal communities across the U.S. IRA §§ 80001–04.
Disadvantaged communities would also benefit from over $3 billion in funding for the Federal Highway Administration for programs to improve transportation access, reconnect low-income areas to their neighbors, and reduce the negative impacts of transportation hubs. IRA § 60501. The IRA would also provide $3 billion to community non-profit organizations to reduce pollution, address toxic contamination, monitor local pollution levels, and invest in climate resiliency projects. IRA § 60201. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would also receive $1 billion to improve the climate resilience and electrification projects in public housing. IRA § 30002.
Multiple e-NGOs have urged passage of the IRA and highlighted the contributions it will make to environmental justice. For example, The Sierra Club’s statement identifies multiple areas of environmental justice impact that will stem from passage of the IRA. Similarly, WE ACT’s statement of support noted, “We acknowledge Members of Congress for returning to the negotiating table and producing an inflation reduction package that has billions of environmental justice funding that can deliver the once-in-a-generation investments needed to make communities of color and areas of low income healthier, cleaner, and economically viable.”