What is the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)?
Congress recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a historic piece of legislation that addresses a variety of socio-economic issues facing Americans, including climate change. In this blog post, we will lay out local impacts of climate change, the environmental components of the bill, and how they relate to IPC’s work in the Chesapeake.
Climate change intersects with so many other issues and its impacts are exacerbated by a multitude of socio-economic factors. At its core, the IRA was designed to address the impacts of climate change. In the past ten years, Maryland has experienced 33 extreme weather events, resulting in billions of dollars of damages. The catastrophic flooding caused by extreme weather events is especially devastating to low-income and marginalized communities, who suffer from the impacts of flooding such as property loss and damage, post-flood mold growth, and lost wages and employment. Congregations are impacted by climate change and weather too. Sea level rise is forcing some Eastern Shore congregations to consider relocating their existing buildings inland. And many congregations in Baltimore struggle with periodic flooding that damages HVAC equipment or renders lower level meeting spaces unusable at times. A seismic and rapid shift is needed in order to prepare for and thwart these impacts of climate change. IPC works with many of the congregations in soon-to-be hardest hit urban settings, as well as the upstream congregations who can reduce their runoff so they are not flooding downstream congregations.
How will the IRA help?
Addressing climate change requires significant resources, and that is exactly what the IRA put out on the table. The IRA includes $369 billion (with a B!), and emphasizes the need to direct funding to communities particularly at risk of being impacted first and foremost by climate impacts. Funding to support communities responding to flooding concerns and urban heat challenges, and updating water supply infrastructure is a gamechanger. With this funding, we are likely to see new grant opportunities open up for projects that many congregations are already pursuing, such as tree plantings and stormwater management projects.
A League of Conservation Voters Lunch & Learn Webinar recently covered the IRA in detail (bring a big lunch -- it’s a 1-hour webinar!) which dives into the details if you’re curious.
The following highlights some of the key components of the IRA that are relevant to us here in the Chesapeake:
Environmental Justice - $60 billion is earmarked for Environmental Justice, for things like improving transit and walkability, addressing stormwater, and reducing heat islands. $3 billion is set aside for Environmental Justice Block Grants for things such as pollution monitoring and prevention, low emission technologies, workforce development, reduction of indoor toxins, and air pollution. To dive deeper, this Harvard Law School online article breaks down the details of the environmental justice provisions of the IRA. One thing that makes the IRA a powerful piece of legislation is that it has been codified into law, versus the Justice40 Initiative, which was an Executive Order without bipartisan support.
Water & Air Issues - There is a lot here relating to environment, but this bullet list summarizes key highlights.
- $2.6 billion in coastal resilience grants to fund projects to protect and restore coastal communities and ecosystems
- $1 billion for the National Park Service for staffing and projects to protect parks
- $250 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect wildlife and habitats
- $20 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support climate-smart agricultural conservation practices
- $1.5 billion to plant trees, establish community and urban forests, and expand green spaces
- $3 billion for air quality improvement projects, particularly in marginalized communities, including investments in clean energy and electric vehicles, limits on methane leakage, and tax credits for purchases of heat pumps and solar panels
Agricultural Conservation Practices - Monies are allocated to the US Department of Agriculture for conservation practices on farms to reduce pollution loads from farms while investing in food security and long-term sustainability. These conservation practices include tree plantings, fencing livestock out of streams, and grazing rotations. Pennsylvania also recently passed legislation to create the Clean Streams Fund, which will be established with $220 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to fund agricultural assistance. The power of these combined dollars is exciting! Funds were also included for farmers who have experienced racial discrimination in accessing support from the USDA.
There are still questions as to how the IRA funds will be distributed and how readily accessible they will be to communities (and congregations!) who need it most, but our organization stands ready to help streamline the flow of funding out into communities who know how to get the work done. We’re thrilled with what we’ve read so far and very thankful that Congress came together to pass this historical piece of legislation.
We must change the status quo if we are to truly love our brothers and sisters. There are over 19,000 congregations in the Chesapeake. Imagine the impact if 19,000 congregations planted trees, installed solar panels, flood-proofed their basements, and taught people how to do this at home. Congregations can reach millions of people and change thinking at a large scale. The IRA will provide resources, but the faith community must step in and lead implementation on the ground. We are all in this together and we all need to make changes.
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