Announcement of Environmental Justice Executive Order, April 21, 2023 (Photo: Twitter @whitehouse)
The environmental benefits of Biden's Inflation Reduction Act are non-existent for Black and other marginalized communities.
Part 1: The Inflation “Reduction” Act’s One Year Shamiversary
Earlier this month the Biden Administration, along with high ranking democrats including Senate Majority Leader, Charles Schumer, and former House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, as well as a slew of acolytes representing centrist environmental organizations, celebrated the one-year signing of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) at the White House.
It was a curious time to celebrate an ostensible climate bill during a summer of cataclysmic events fueled by runaway climate change including deadly and crippling heatwaves, wildfires that blanketed major cities with toxic smoke, and the annihilation of Lahaina, Maui - if you listened closely, you may have even been able to hear Nero playing his famous concerto di follia (the Lunatic’s Concerto) on his violin as Democrats and their operatives offered themselves and the president accolades while many parts of the country are being reduced to embers.
Last year at this time, Black Agenda Report published my essay, Why the Inflation Reduction Act is Less a “Climate Bill” and More a Poison Pill for Black and Indigenous Communities and Movements. One year later it’s incontrovertible that the IRA should not be celebrated as an anniversary, but rather indicted for the shamiversary that it’s showing itself to be. In said piece, I repeated a question asked by Colombian Vice President, Francia Marquez and members of her political party, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN), “Why the demographics of those celebrating passage of a bill purported to address the climate crisis don’t match the demographics of those most impacted by the crisis?”
As more details and provisions of the IRA come into effect, the answer to that question becomes more lucid. Because it’s clear, despite platitudes and insouciant mentions of environmental justice communities and the people who reside in them, that the law was never meant to primarily, if at all, result in net benefits for Black, Indigenous, or poor people and their communities. Take, for instance, the fact that 66% to 75% of the IRA’s largesse is in the form of tax credits.This in itself provides a profound advantage to white and affluent folk, as having more wealth and assets is directly correlated with the ability to take advantage of, and benefit from tax credits in general, and specifically in the context of the IRA. The racialized wealth gap in the United States is both demonstrable and incontrovertible. According to a 2019 study published by the American Bar Association, household wealth for Black folk stood at a paltry $24,100 compared to $188,200 for their white counterparts[It should be noted that statistics like these aren’t even available for Indigenous folk, which is an unacceptable attribute of a larger unacceptable system of data collection and invisibilization].
The report goes on to explain that this wealth disparity is effectuated by U.S. systems and policies that date as far back in time as slavery and Jim/Jane Crow, to more contemporary forms of de jure anti-Blackness like FDR’s New Deal. The IRA has no mechanisms for confronting or dismantling these systems - and this reality vindicates Vice President Marquez’s and PCN’s question re-stated earlier, and the fact that the self-identified architects of the IRA are not Black, Indigenous, poor, nor do they reside in environmental justice communities except, of course, in their capacity as gentrifiers. And like the Democrats, these “architects” also fail to comprehend and embrace a simple, yet salient aphorism - you cannot address or dismantle the climate crisis without deracinating its root causes, white “supremacy,” patriarchy, and colonization.
For these reasons and more to be discussed, the IRA amounts to nothing more than an insidious form of disaster capitalism in “progressive” face, using a quintessential climate crisis to advance a series of false technological, economic, and policy solutions, that will do nothing to reduce inflation, greenhouse gas emissions at requisite scale, nor environmental injustices that disproportionately and adversely impact Black lives and communities. And if Black folk don’t intercede quickly, the admonishment by our family at the Movement for Black Lives’ Black Hive, “The Inflation Reduction Act in its current form offers up Black lives to the oil and gas industry for political gain on a global scale,” will be vindicated.
In a recent piece, the brilliant scholar and policy expert, Rhiana Gunn Wright, who is credited with being a major architect of the Democrats’ 2018 version of the Green New Deal, recently offered an admonishment of how the IRA is poised to be yet another government program that leaves Black folk behind.Therein, Rhiana proclaims, “Yet, with the exception of a few targeted policies, the IRA and the debates that have emerged since its passage suggest that the U.S. is again (at this late stage!) relying on white supremacy to decide how to allocate the power and resources that come from going green.” Relying on white “supremacy” to shepherd climate justice would be like Dizzy Gillespie relying on Kenny G for Be-Bop jazz lessons. And while we know that would never swing, it’s troubling the Democrats believe they can swing another season of bamboozling Black, Indigenous, and poor by dangling scraps of government money in exchange for fealty and even the compromising of values.
Take, for instance, the scene at the White House this past Spring, when Environmental and Climate Justice elders allowed Biden to use them as ornaments when he signed an executive order purporting to, “advance environmental justice, including delivering clean air and water to environmental justice communities.” These environmental justice “leaders” got in line and surrounded Biden with big smiles and approval as he signed a milquetoast executive order just one week after he approved two environmentally racist projects in Alaska that will adversely impact the lives and culture of Alaska Native folk, as well as new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities in majority Black Gulf South communities.
It should come as no surprise that many of those pictured at Biden’s EJ minstrel show have already received, or believe that they are in a position to receive said IRA scraps in exchange for exculpating him for demonstrating that the IRA should be renamed the IERA, that is Increasing Environmental Racism Act. How else could the bill be characterized when some of the biggest perpetrators of environmental racism, fossil fuel cartels, are celebrating a piece of legislation that purports to advance climate action? It’s because the IRA is a multifaceted sham that benefits both climate killers and a select cadre of people of color who more represent the petit bourgeois than poor and working class Black and Indigenous communities already being harmed by the climate justice derelict known as the IRA.
The Biden administration is wasting no time vindicating why the fossil fuel industry is rhapsodic about the IRA. Only last week, it was announced that Occidental Petroleum, one of the wealthiest U.S.-based fossil fuel cartels, will receive a substantial piece of $1.2 Billion dollars from the Department of Energy to build a facility in a majority Black community in Texas which is already surrounded by a profligate number of fossil fuel infrastructure and associated toxic emissions. In addition to the fact the IRA is funding fossil fuel racism, it is also demonstrating that while climate killers will enjoy government succor, the people and communities who are supposed to be centered as part of Biden’s ostensible climate justice agenda are being suckered by their government. I will get into this more in the next part of this series, Justice 40 [Acres and a Mule]: How the IRA;s Climate Solutions Create More Environmental Justice Challenges. Therein, I will discuss how some of the specific policy provisions of the IRA will actually exacerbate environmental racism by increasing environmental racism in Black, Indigenous, and poor communities.
The bottom line is this, Joe Biden and the Democrats know they can’t run on this flailing piece of legislation that will have minimal to no benefits for the vast majority of Black voters who are increasingly expressing their antipathy for a party that continues to take them for granted while sacrificing their communities and public health. That the Democrats think that running on the IRA will assuage or mollify the warranted chagrin of Black folk. It’s less a re-election bid and more a political kamikaze campaign that will crash and burn just as their inefficacious climate policies burn the planet, the atmosphere, and Black and Indigenous communities.
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright is a national racial and climate justice advocate. He is a proud member of the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) and is blessed to be the father of his eight-year-old son, Zahir Cielo. The opinions expressed in this piece are his own.