“One of the most damaging legacies of the intersection between racism and fossil fuels is how highways were built to cut through Latino and Black communities. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 alone displaced more than 1 million people, according to the Department of Transportation. People who remained near these roads, overwhelmingly communities of color, were exposed to more fine particulate matter from the tailpipes of cars and trucks.
That legacy lingers today. A mountain of research has shown how Black people nationwide are exposed to more damaging pollution from construction, power plants, roads, and industry than white people.
The Inflation Reduction Act includes a federal infusion of cash for community projects aimed at addressing some of the harmful effects of these projects. There is $3 billion marked for Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants, in addition to $1 billion already approved under the bipartisan infrastructure law last fall.
The money can be used for many things, including improving walkability, capping wells, installing noise barriers, and reducing the urban heat island effect. But one way communities could use the funding is to just remove a road, highway, or other types of damaging infrastructure. They can also reconnect communities divided by highways in other ways: “multi-use trails, regional greenways, or active transportation networks and spines.””
“Slashing climate emissions requires doing two things at once: electrifying things like cars and stoves that typically run on fossil fuels, while alsocleaning up fossil fuels in the power sector so that pollution doesn’t just come from another source. That’s the reason the US will have to shut down its last 172 coal plants within the decade to finally make good on its climate promises.
One surprising policy to help with this transition made it into the final bill, even though it needed Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) sign-off: $10 billion in direct payments to rural electric co-ops that pay for the cost of a clean energy transition. The USDA will administer direct payments for these co-ops to retire coal-fired power plants.
Many of the last coal plants standing are serving rural communities. E&E News noted that “about 32 percent of the power that supplies co-ops nationwide came from coal in 2019.” Investor-owned utilities, by contrast, generated 19 percent of their electricity from coal in 2020.
These rural co-ops, which are collectively owned and governed by the communities they serve, have moved away from coal slowly more for economic reasons than political ones. These coal plants tend to be newer, and the communities they serve may be more risk-averse to transitioning to renewables because they have to pay directly for the cost of the transition.
But before rural communities can even think about transitioning to solar and wind, first they have to shut down the coal plants. And that can be expensive because it includes paying off any debts. (A separate $5 billion Department of Energy program in the bill offers loans that lower debts and costs for privately owned utilities to transition to renewables.)”
“The more controversial part of the bill is its funding of carbon capture for oil, coal, and industrial sites. Typically, these technologies have been used to just pump CO2 back in the ground for more drilling, rather than to do anything about the climate crisis. Still, prevailing climate science shows that some of this technology is probably needed to address the harder-to-decarbonize parts of the economy. So the federal funding for scaling new technologies could manage to go a long way over the long term.”
“the act includes $20 billion for “climate-smart” agriculture, which could help farmers store more carbon in their soil and plants.
Part of that money, for example, will go toward an initiative called the Conservation Stewardship Program, which essentially pays farmers to make their land more environmentally friendly, such as by planting cover crops. Cover crops, planted when the ground would otherwise be fallow, are one way to increase a farm’s potential to store carbon (and can also help avoid emissions).
Another $5 billion in funding goes toward preventing wildfires and protecting old-growth forests, which are rich in carbon. This is critical because the US is expected to lose more of its natural carbon sinks over time under business-as-usual scenarios.”