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Inflation Reduction Act will boost EPA efforts to tackle the climate crisis

President Biden set out a vision for his presidency in an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis a week after he was inaugurated. He hoped to implement it through an ambitious Build Back Better bill proposal that has suffered almost as many false starts as Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. But now it appears that the Senate is poised to provides substantial funding to tackle climate change through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. Although much diminished from the original proposal, the package would be extraordinarily consequential, even transformative.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) portions of the bill would provide the agency with $41.5 billion for a host of tools to address climate change and advance environmental and climate justice. It provides funds to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses, including methane, to employ zero-emission technology, to reduce air pollution in ports and elsewhere, and to empower low-income and disadvantaged communities with expanded roles in responding to climate change.

An important feature of the bill is that the money it appropriates in fiscal year 2023 can be used in later years. This provides stable and reliable funding to insulate program planning and implementation from the consequences of the shifts in political winds that drive the annual Congressional funding cycle.

The EPA centerpiece is $27 billion for a greenhouse gas reduction program of financial assistance for projects, activities or technologies that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions or help communities do so and prioritizes projects without other access to financing. $15 billion will serve low-income and disadvantaged communities, $7 billion of that to enable such communities to deploy or benefit from zero-emission technologies.

The bill also includes $5 billion for greenhouse gas reduction grants to states, tribes, municipalities and pollution control agencies. It includes $250 million for planning grants, with at least one per state, with the remaining $4.75 billion for implementation grants. Applicants for such grants must show a project’s expected greenhouse gas pollution reductions, generally and for low-income and disadvantaged communities, as well as explain how reductions will be measured.

The $3 billion environmental justice and climate justice block grants and technical assistance program can help communities reduce and mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Grants can fund community-led monitoring of air emissions and other pollution activities to prevent or remediate pollution, and investments in low- and zero-emission and resilient technologies. Funds can also be used to mitigate climate and health risks from climate change, promote resilience and adaptation, as well as facilitate engagement of disadvantaged communities in decision-making.

Another $3 billion targets air pollution in ports, where movement of goods from ships and related ground transport can impose devastating pollution burdens. Funds can be used to plan, purchase or install zero-emission port equipment or technology to relieve air pollution. Also, $750 million will go to ports in areas not attaining a national ambient air quality standard, which too often include low-income or disadvantaged communities. The bill also provides $60 million for grants to reduce diesel emissions — often the source of the worst port pollution — from movement of goods affecting low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Heavy duty vehicles are a significant source of harmful pollution. The bill provides $1 billion for zero-emission heavy-duty trucks, including $400 million for vehicles serving communities in areas not in attainment of an air quality standard.

The bill also addresses the methane pollution that heavily contributes to global warming. It provides $1.55 billion in incentives to reduce methane pollution by reporting, monitoring and mitigating methane. Over half of that will address methane from petroleum and natural gas systems with the remainder directed to marginal conventional wells. The bill also includes a schedule of annually increasing fees, rising to $1,500 per ton in 2026 for emissions from covered facilities.

Another important provision is $300 million in new support for clean air protection. That includes $190 million for air monitoring, including $118 million to monitor fenceline pollution, where pollution burdens often fall disproportionately on low-income and disadvantaged communities that are notoriously underserved by the gap-filled existing air monitoring system. Enhanced air monitoring can advance the commitment made by the climate executive order to create a community monitoring system providing real-time pollution data to front-line and fenceline communities. The bill also provides $25 million for technology for better enforcement and compliance assistance monitoring. 

Another important step toward protecting vulnerable populations from air pollution is $50 million for grants and technical assistance for clean air for schools. There is also $87 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from domestic power generation.

The bill also provides $250 million to address the carbon associated with producing construction materials. There is also $100 million to address construction materials used in transportation projects and federal buildings.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 bill will, at long last, enable our nation to address the climate crisis more aggressively. Congress must pass it without delay.

David F. Coursen is a former EPA attorney and a member of the Environmental Protection Network, a nonprofit organization of EPA alumni working to protect the agency’s progress toward clean air, water, land and climate protection.

Tags Charlie Brown Climate change EPA Fossil fuels Global warming Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden oil and gas Zero emission

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