Indigenous farmers in Isleta Pueblo, south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, have long depended on the Rio Grande-fed corn and green chili crops, but amid a water crisis in the western United States. . skip planting crops completely, which could be devastating for the 2,500 residents of the community.
But a new national program could help those farmers and other disadvantaged communities. Introduced earlier this year by Joe Biden, the “Justice40” plan would direct 40% of the profits from federal environmental investments to those most in need.
For Isleta Pueblo, that could mean financing for advanced irrigation or new sources of sustainable income.
“We have been dealing with the drought for decades. But this summer is going to be really terrible for many indigenous farmers, but also for people of color, ”said Jade Begay of the NDN Collective, an indigenous-led justice organization that advocates for access to clean water.
Done right, experts say, the Justice40 program could deliver millions or billions of dollars to communities in need and employ extensive planning and analysis. Done wrong, it could become a bribe fund for pet projects that don’t necessarily reduce inequality. Simply sending money to communities may not necessarily lead to local pollution reduction and new, more sustainable jobs for the people who need them most.
The ever-increasing threat of a warmer planet is a reality that affects US communities, but studies show that those affected first and hardest by climate change and pollution are largely poor and not white.
“We are talking about 400 years of challenges that have been imposed on communities of color,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, an environmental justice adviser to the Obama administration, who is now vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization at the National Federation of Wild life.
“If we really focus, we can make some significant changes to help people’s health” and to build wealth in communities, he said, with jobs like installing solar panels and plugging orphan oil and gas wells.
Ali called the program the “right move at the right time in history,” but said there were many ways the plan could fail, even as states take responsibility for distributing the funds. States across the country have historically failed to value environmental justice, climate or science, he said.
The Biden administration recruited more than two dozen advisers from various environmental justice groups to its White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which created a specific Justice task force40. The council recently presented recommendations that suggest extensive investments in energy efficiency, sustainable and affordable housing, workforce training and development, and pollution reduction.
The White House, responding to questions about concerns about how the program will be implemented, said its Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies were reviewing the council’s recommendations. They are also hearing comments from leaders in Congress and others, including on how success is defined and measured. In the coming days, the administration will publish an interim guide for agencies.
Ana Baptista, an assistant professor in the graduate program in environmental policy and sustainability management at Nueva Escuela, said there were many places in “dire need” of assistance, for water infrastructure and chemical safety. But he was concerned about those in Republican states like Kentucky and Florida, which had previously opposed some federal stimulus funds.
“My interpretation of this opposition is that it is largely political, seeking to thwart the federal administration’s efforts to help local economies and communities,” he said.
Activists are also concerned that Justice40 could generate competition between communities in need. In California, for example, communities struggled to rank high on the state’s environmental justice assessment tool in order to qualify for the most funding, he said.
Many basics of the initiative have yet to be finalized and agreed, including how much money will go into the program, where the benefits will be distributed, and how. Coal mining regions in the Appalachians; communities along Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, known as “Cancer Alley”; and Indian reserves lacking access to water and power are potential candidates. But the Justice40 program has yet to highlight any specific town or city.
White House Officials say the initiative is modeling on New York’s landmark Community Protection and Climate Leadership Act of 2019, which requires the state to invest or direct 40% of resources to disadvantaged communities. However, advocates said the Biden administration did not speak to front-line climate justice leaders in the development of Justice40.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, who is on the steering committee of NYRenews, a New York-based environmental justice coalition, said she was surprised the administration did not contact the groups.
“If they had contacted us, instead of just taking it, they would have discovered that 40% is not the roof, it has to be the basement. And we are not talking about profits, we are talking about investments ”, he said.
Responding to questions about how the administration chose the 40% figure, the White House said the initiative “is based on extensive engagement and feedback from environmental justice communities during the president’s campaign.”
Where 40% or more of the funding will come from has not yet been specified, but hope depends on Biden’s $ 2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would open millions in environmental justice aid and economic stimulus efforts. However, without legislation from a divided Congress, the administration would have far less money to work with, and could only redirect some funds from various government agencies.
Despite looming questions about how the program will work, advocates are generally motivated by what they see as a serious and swift push to tackle climate change, as Justice40 shows.
“I think we’re seeing a real commitment … and that feels very, very different from the last four years,” said Begay of the NDN Collective, who is also a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
“We want to do the best we can in this time that we have with the access and privilege that we have.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism