There is a lot to celebrate in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which makes a historic investment of $369 billion in climate and clean energy. It will speed the adoption of solutions like electric vehicles, solar, and wind, make our buildings cleaner and safer, create millions of manufacturing jobs, help the stewards of our farms and forests become climate champions, and provide $60 billion in dedicated funds for environmental justice. As these federal dollars pour into states and local communities from the IRA, we have an opportunity to build an equitable clean energy future.
In the past decade, the climate movement has grown larger and stronger, speaking up and not giving up as the impacts of climate change became more dire and impossible to ignore. Their tireless efforts got us to this point, and now it’s up to all of us to partner with state and local leaders to find creative ways to build a climate-friendly economy that don’t repeat past injustices.
Despite its many clean energy wins, there are fears that certain IRA provisions, like opening public lands to drilling and expanding incentives that keep fossil fuel plants operating, will perpetuate environmental harms in under-resourced communities of color that disproportionally host the most polluting facilities. Amid what scientists and many others have declared as a climate emergency, we have an obligation to end the cycle of ongoing harm to frontline communities, and to reverse our historical practices to advance a more vibrant future for everyone.
What we build and how we build it will have consequences that last a generation. Local and state leaders have an opportunity to center equity in the implementation of IRA by ensuring that the people most affected by pollution and climate impacts are involved in shaping the way forward – and truly benefit from the solutions. The Justice40 initiative – a Biden Administration directive that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to communities that have been overburdened by legacy pollution and environmental hazards – should be a guide, and we can also look to Midwest leaders that are already showing us the way.
When it comes to clean energy innovations, Midwestern cities are at the forefront. Leaders in Ann Arbor, Mich. are working to decarbonize an entire under-resourced neighborhood through deep home energy retrofits, electrification of all appliances, and installation of renewable energy for income-eligible residents. In St. Paul and Minneapolis a new all-electric carsharing service just hit the streets, with vehicles and charging stations concentrated in underinvested neighborhoods to make electric transportation more accessible and equitable.
States are also demonstrating what transformative climate action can look like. Last year, a diverse coalition of over 200 organizations – from labor and business to faith and justice – made the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act a reality in Illinois. They continue to work hard to create an equity-centered renewable energy future, getting to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and making significant investments in clean energy access and workforce development for historically disinvested communities.
And in Minnesota, the recently launched Groundbreak Coalition, spurred by the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing community recovery efforts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, aims to close long-standing racial wealth gaps by disrupting “business as usual” and finding innovative solutions to make financial capital flow faster and differently to those who have too long been denied access. The goal is to boost homeownership, rental housing, commercial development, and BIPOC entrepreneurship – all with an emphasis on energy-efficient, electrified buildings that are climate-ready and healthy.
At the end of this decade, it’s action at the state and local levels that will make the most significant climate bill ever passed by Congress a success. And justice is not a given – it will take focus, determination, and creativity. As new and expanded programs roll out, our progress toward an equitable future will happen on the ground in thousands of communities across the country, fueled by the vision and hard work of local leaders and the majority of Americans who support their efforts.
Sarah Christiansen is the director of the McKnight Foundation’s Midwest Climate & Energy program, and Ben Passer is a senior program officer. Based in Minneapolis, McKnight invests $32 million each year in Midwest climate solutions.