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EPA will push $27 billion into poorer communities to add solar, cut energy bills

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The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it’s taken a big step in getting the $27 billion tagged in the Inflation Reduction Act for cleaning up greenhouse gas emissions into the hands of the communities who’ve long lived in the shadow of polluting industry and heavily-trafficked highways, which decades ago were built directly through populated neighborhoods.

The EPA announced initial guidance for its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), a competitive grant program intended to leverage private capital for clean energy and clean air investments across the country.

“With $27 billion from President Biden’s investments in America, this program will mobilize billions more in private capital to reduce pollution and improve public health, all while lowering energy costs, increasing energy security, creating good-paying jobs and boosting economic prosperity in communities across the country,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. 

Regan, on a call with reporters, also emphasized that the grant programs can help households swap to lower-polluting, energy-efficient heating and appliances, which should also lower bills, as he emphasized that poorer households pay disproportionately higher energy bills in many cases that wealthier households.

John Podesta, senior advisor to Biden for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, said the grant program “will create good-paying manufacturing jobs, while helping to tackle climate change-the greatest challenge of our time.”

Biden, who has made climate change mitigation and adaptation a key policy area of his first administration, routinely sweetens his asks with the promise of U.S. “green” jobs.

Read: Biden claims green-job surge in State of the Union — is his boast justified?

And the Biden EPA is balancing double duty of implementing the several programs and its routine duties of regulating clean air and water.

The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law and the climate-heavy IRA enacted last year have begin to funnel the $90 billion combined in the bills into the EPA over the next 10 years for climate projects. Those projects include $1.5 billion for new technologies to monitor and reduce methane emissions from oil and gas
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wells, $5 billion for states to purchase low-emission school buses and $3 billion to cut pollution at ports. Plus, the agency is trying to staff up after the exodus of roughly 1,000 scientists and policy experts during the Trump administration.

The EPA expects to open competitions for funding under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund by summer 2023 and will first roll out a national Community Roundtable series that aims to let communities know these funds exist.

EPA will hold two competitions to distribute grant funding under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund: a $20 billion General and Low-Income Assistance Competition and a $7 billion Zero-Emissions Technology Fund Competition. EPA will implement these programs in alignment with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which directs that 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities, including those facing disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental impacts.

The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared. Poorer people and some racial and ethnic groups are among those who often face higher exposure to pollutants and who may experience greater responses to such pollution, says the American Lung Association. Reasons can include exposure to industrial pollution or highway pollution because of zoning crossover, while access to less healthcare can also aggravate the impact from pollution.

In one study cited by the American Lung Association, low socioeconomic status consistently increased the risk of premature death from fine particle pollution among 13.2 million Medicare recipients studied in the largest examination of particle pollution-related mortality nationwide.

A University of Chicago team of sociologists recently studied the impact of pollution on early-childhood development in lower-income communities.

The team found that living in a high-poverty neighborhood increases exposure to many different air toxics during infancy, that it reduces cognitive abilities measured later at age 4, and that about one-third of this effect can be attributed to disparities in air quality. 

In another example, recently reported by MarketWatch, fresh attention is given to the communities surrounding America’s largest shipping container ports, where the constant traffic of short-haul trucking means that West Oakland, Calif., residents, for instance, have twice the cancer risk compared to other parts of the county due to diesel particulate matter. Area residents also experience higher rates of asthma-related ER visits and hospitalizations, especially in children under five. Some new efforts are pushing for more cleaner-burning electric vehicles for such trucking.

EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will include a nearly $20 billion general and low-income assistance competition to award competitive grants to eligible nonprofit entities that will collaborate with community financing institutions like green banks, community development financial institutions, credit unions, housing finance agencies and others. The EPA says communities have had unequal access to private capital for far too long. EPA expects to make between two and 15 grants under this competition.

Under a $7 billion Zero-Emissions Technology Fund Competition, EPA will award competitive grants to states, Tribes, municipalities, and eligible nonprofit entities to enable the deployment of residential rooftop solar, community solar and associated storage and upgrades in low-income and disadvantaged communities. EPA expects to award up to 60 grants under this competition.

The effort is “likely going to result in the largest-ever federal investment in rooftop and community solar projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities,” said Sen. Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Credit: marketwatch.com

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