August 10, 2022 | Cliff Majersik, Alex Dews

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) before Congress charts a new, fundamentally different course for American climate action. Multiple analyses have found that in combination with current policies and progress, the IRA will cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by about 40% from their 2005 peak. The sweeping legislation includes massive, sustained investments in climate solutions that work—including in the built environment. The IRA is the result of tireless advocacy and coalition building efforts over many years. Movement leaders and organizers mobilized broad public support for provisions in the bill that will improve equity by cutting pollution and connecting communities to clean, reliable energy. They deserve a lot of credit for the successes of this landmark legislation, even as many are correctly pointing out where the IRA falls short in delivering a fully realized climate justice bill. 

There is much to celebrate in the IRA: historic investments that will encourage clean energy, electrification, resilience and building efficiency, funds to spur adoption of more efficient energy code, and domestic manufacturing incentives that will make key building performance technologies more affordable and accessible. There is also $3 billion in environmental justice block grants and $1 billion for public housing efficiency improvements, which represents a small but meaningful shift towards adequately resourcing the intersection of climate and housing affordability that will positively affect the lives of multiple generations of families.

All these are huge steps forward, but the total emissions reduction fall far short of America’s Paris climate commitment, which is itself inadequate to preserve climate stability. To fill the gap, cities, states, federal agencies, communities, and the private sector will need to take bold, innovative steps including drastic reduction in building energy use, which IMT is poised to support.

The IRA’s environmental justice provisions are noteworthy, but still leave room for improvement. Investments in clean air and water, clean energy jobs, building renovations, and action on pollution hot spots disproportionately affecting communities of color are big wins for coalitions that have worked behind the scenes for years to raise the voices of those most affected by climate injustice. While these wins were hard fought and worth celebrating, it’s also important to note where the IRA falls short, and in some cases forestalls, movement toward a just transition. As the U.S. Climate Action Network, the Climate Justice Alliance, and others have pointed out, key provisions of the bill fund decarbonization without addressing the core causes of climate change and the inequities in our energy system. The bill also invests in fossil fuel production that will worsen pollution and health outcomes in frontline communities.

In our work on building decarbonization, IMT is committed to shifting power and influence to frontline communities in developing solutions. We are eager to continue supporting place-based climate policy in the context of the IRA. The long-term impacts of this legislation will depend on how programs are designed and implemented at the local level, and we are excited to get to work.

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