An equity point of view on the Inflation Reduction Act


The United States has crossed a threshold after decades of intrepid attempts to build political will for climate action. While it is important to recognize the shift in momentum, and its value, we can’t dismiss that it prioritizes investments in projects over people, again.

The movement for people and planet has taken shape since the era of industrialization as Indigenous, enslaved and colonized peoples transformed these lands through their labor, warning of extraction, pollution and degradation over generations. Modern movements marked the struggle with the formation of the environmental justice movement, the development of the 17 principles in 1991, the Jemez principles in 1996 and the emergence of whole organizations focused on conservation and the nonprofit industrial complex.

All of it, the blood, tears and the emergence of an environmental lobby led to the possibility of the historic compromise, the Inflation Reduction Act. As the new law is enacted it will move billions of dollars into the marketplace and send a signal across the globe that America is committed to fighting the climate crisis as a part of a multinational duty to future generations.

At a minimum we can agree that the bargain puts money on the table for clean energy research and development, heavy duty and car transportation, as well as drought mitigation in the West. And most importantly, it adds certainty to renewable energy development through extension of investment tax and production credits that can support deployment of wind and solar that can translate to accessible energy for people and planet.

Unfortunately, the impact of this legislation cannot strictly be measured in dollars and cents. As the world judges the value of legislative action in the U.S., the movement that delivered it, over decades, is struggling to hold onto thepeople, networks and relational infrastructure that could best advocate to realize the potential of the bargain. Whether the advocates are students, parishioners, parents or protestors putting their bodies on the line, the power of people is the real hero.

As news of the compromise that led to new law spread faster than the details within the legislation, communities voiced concerns about the opaqueness of dealmaking and demanded protection of vulnerable places and people. The release of the final text confirmed those fears and about the closed-door nature of the negotiation in contravention to community practice of participatory coalitions. And all that trust-building practice is how we collectively determine our trajectory for emissions, conditions of survival, loss and damage.

The next step to realizing any benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act is understanding the forewarnings of our movement partners. The work of the environmental movement is actually multitudes of strategy, tactics and agendas that come together for as an expansive a vision that has ever existed because it includes all of us. And that kind of power needs to be tended, coordinated, and mended in moments like these. We cannot do the work of people and planet without deferential commitments to the most vulnerable, that include resource redistribution and a non-negotiable practice of racial equity that is sensitive to the reality that the ways are as important as the means. It matters that Black, Indigenous, and all people of color, the chronically poor and people who live in regions where energy extraction threatens their lives are raising concerns. And it matters right now.

Now is the time when the connections between environmental degradation in the U.S. South and global south matter. Now is the time when race-based discrimination and systemic exclusion should sharpen our focus on the  priority, sequence and scale of investments for innovation. It is only by widening the lens of our policy and practice that we reach the scale the environmental crisis requires, and restore public lands, watersheds, coastal communities, rural and urban communities with sustainable, replicable and life-sustaining energy. A win in this moment is one that aligns with the principles of just transition which require a just redistribution of resources that meet the litmus test of community benefits, not just market demands.

As the conversation about this landmark legislation shifts to a staid pace of regulatory, state, local, community and territorial forums the true impact of the legislation will be borne out. In the meantime, the whole movement should be making plans to undergird the people and places that the bargain leaves vulnerable for deep extraction, incumbent permits, pipelines and bureaucratic process. Because despite the global calls for racial equity we haven’t made it a political reality here at home. And until the work of communities of color is seen as essential and not optional for climate, our work remains unfinished. Until the work of justice for racialized peoples is irrevocable in environment and climate wins, we should not dare to declare victory.

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is president and CEO of Environmental Grantmakers Association.

Tags Climate change Environmental justice environmentl envrionemtal movement Inflation Reduction Act Pollution
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