The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 amended the Clean Air Act to create the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, a new program which will deploy $27 billion in competitive grants to mobilize financing for clean energy and climate projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions, especially in disadvantaged communities. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund includes:
$7 billion for competitive grants to enable low-income and disadvantaged communities to deploy or benefit from zero-emission technologies, including distributed technologies on residential rooftops;
nearly $12 billion for competitive grants to eligible entities to provide financial and technical assistance to projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions; and
$8 billion for competitive grants to eligible entities to provide financial and technical assistance to projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
U.S. EPA recently announced a coordinated stakeholder engagement strategy to help shape the implementation of this first-of-its-kind fund. The strategy includes:
soliciting expert input on key program design questions from the Environmental Financial Advisory Board (EFAB);
issuing a public Request for Information to enable communities and the public to comment on the Fund’s design and implementation (comments due by December 5);
launching a stakeholder listening session series to enable key stakeholders including green banks, community finance institutions, environmental justice communities, state and local governments, clean energy advocates, labor, and others to provide input directly to EPA staff on the implementation of the Fund. The listening sessions are scheduled for November 1 and November 9 from 6-8 pm CT; and
These initial engagements will help ensure the Fund’s design and implementation reflect input from a variety of diverse stakeholders to ensure the full economic and environmental benefits of this historic investment are realized by all people, particularly those who have been most burdened by environmental, social, and economic injustice.
Yolanda, 61, owns a home in the predominantly Black 7th Ward neighborhood in New Orleans.
To fix her leaking roof in 2020, she had to borrow money.
“It’s one of them credit card loans,” she said. “Like interest of 30% and all that, you know. I was kind of backed up against the wall, so I just went on and made the loan, a high-interest loan.”
As a sociologist who has spent the past 10 years studying housing conditions in the U.S., I led a research team that conducted interviews with homeowners who are struggling with basic maintenance such as rotting wood siding and floors, mold, crumbling brickwork, outdated plumbing and leaking ceilings. Our first paper from this project is currently under peer review.
Like Yolanda, our interviewees – whom we gave pseudonyms to protect their privacy – were almost all Black women over the age of 60 who lived in old buildings in neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of discrimination – such as redlining and inequitable land use decisions – and disinvestment.
Once a lively district of Black businesses and homes, the 7th Ward has become an area of high poverty since the I-10 expressway was built during the 1960s directly through its heart.
Yolanda had already been living there for a decade before the highway was built.
Though brightly painted, Yolanda’s home is separated from I-10 only by an empty lot, and the constant noise and higher rates of pollution make it hard to imagine Yolanda would be able to sell her home for a profit or use its declining value as equity.
Did Yolanda take out a high-interest loan for nothing?
Was she throwing good money after bad?
These are not easy questions to answer.
Like other Black female homeowners whom we interviewed, Yolanda had to choose between debt and disrepair.
As she explained, she was “backed up against a wall.”
The racist and sexist history of disrepair
According to a 2022 analysis of federal census data by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly a third of homeowners who earn less than US$32,000 – about 4.8 million people – spent nothing on maintenance or improvements.
I have noticed worrying trends in the circumstances of those who live in housing in disrepair.
In my book, “Stacked Decks,” I explore the connections between urban housing, race, gender and income inequality.
Unaddressed repairs such as leaky roofs or broken pipes frequently result in code violations and court cases, which prompt liens, foreclosures and the possibility of homelessness.
The situation is worse for Black women, who have much less wealth, on average, than their white or male counterparts. Without money to pay for repairs, female homeowners face incurring more debt if they make repairs.
Doris, a homeowner in Chicago, told us in 2021 about her old and leaking roof and the flooding in her basement. She explained that the flooding was partially due to the overflowing of nearby city-owned drainage pipes.
“Every time it rains, the water comes in,” she said. “By the sewer not being clean … so much water came in my basement that my washer and dryer was floating up on the water.” An insurance claim covered some of the costs of this repair for Doris, and the city is experimenting with new ways to tackle floodwater, but water still gets in when it rains hard.
Buildings naturally deteriorate over time, because of the combination of aging construction materials and weather. At some point, all homes need repairs and preventive maintenance.
Chicagoan Kimberly cares for her grandson almost full time and told us about her concerns about the rotted wood that has made her back porch dangerous to stand on.
“We don’t go out of the back door at all,” Kimberly said. “We have not used that in years. Four years now. Four years we have not used the back porch at all.”
Disrepair and environmental injustice
Disrepair is an issue of environmental injustice. The government has a responsibility to help with repairs because of its role in the housing discrimination that has created such racial disparities in housing conditions.
But, like disaster relief, assistance to homeowners is uneven and hard to obtain.
Although all homes need repair work over time, disrepair disproportionately affects people with the fewest resources, because maintenance is expensive. Disrepair also causes health and safety issues, as do other environmental injustices, such as the placement of highways and location of polluting factories.
Disrepair can also force people to leave their homes because they cannot afford repairs.
But making repairs can exacerbate debt.
What all this means is that owning a home, or even paying off a mortgage, does not guarantee that homes remain affordable, an asset or a safe shelter.
Recognizing disrepair as environmental racism could be one step in ensuring homes are all these things.
With the drive toward sustainable air travel intensifying, airlines and other air transportation companies are ramping up their use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). But as SAF demand grows, the aviation industry will be challenged by limited supplies of traditional SAF feedstocks like inedible animal fats and waste oils.
To meet demand in the face of limited supplies of these traditional SAF feedstocks, technology companies are competing to create new forms of SAF. Honeywell is the latest to announce a new technology for creation of SAF, describing it as “innovative ethanol-to-jet fuel processing technology that allows producers to convert corn-based, cellulosic, or sugar-based ethanol into sustainable aviation fuel.”
A group of 17 lawmakers recently signed a letter asking the U.S. EPA to adopt a standardized labeling system for recycling bins, saying a single label design could reduce confusion and prevent trash from ending up in the recycling stream.
In the letter, the lawmakers say there are too many different versions of informational labels on recycling bins around the country, and a standardized format would more clearly explain what’s acceptable to recycle in each region. The call to action is backed by Recycle Across America, which has made standardized recycling bin labels a longtime project.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found that the Australian government violated the rights of people living on four islands in the Torres Strait and has ordered it to pay for the harm caused. The committee ruled last week that the country had failed to protect islanders from the effects of climate change, making their claim the first successful one of this kind.
The Torres Strait islands off the northern tip of Australia are already feeling the brunt of climate-change damage. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding have had devastating impacts on the island communities.
Bridget Lewis, at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, studies how human-rights law can be applied to environmental cases. Lewis spoke to Nature about the case and its implications for other communities seeking redress for climate-change harms.
One of the most significant efforts to halt the plastics industry in its tracks sees a path to victory through grassroots advocacy, an avenue proponents hope will help combat a powerful and rapidly growing sector.
An $85 million campaign — Beyond Petrochemicals — announced two weeks ago by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will target petrochemical facilities, a leading source of plastics, in the name of fighting both climate change and environmental degradation. The initiative will pour funding into ongoing efforts led by an array of advocacy organizations, a number of them based in areas grappling with petrochemical activity.
Companies of all sizes improved their sustainability performance over the past five years, the most businesses on record are participating in sustainability ratings, and after years of fluctuations, some improvement is being made in supply chain environmental impacts, according to a report from EcoVadis.
EcoVadis released its sixth Business Sustainability Risk and Performance Index. The business sustainability ratings provider found that 65% of companies are achieving a performance level of good or better, up from 50% in 2017. Additionally, the number of companies with partial sustainability performance fell from 45% in 2017 to 32% in 2021.