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Was the Climate Law a Win for Environmental Justice? It’s Complicated

The Inflation Reduction Act dedicates billions to the issue, but some advocates remain skeptical.

Protesters at the Climate Justice March in New York City on Nov. 13, 2021.

Protesters at the Climate Justice March in New York City on Nov. 13, 2021.

Photographer: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

Environmental justice (EJ) advocates — defenders of communities that are most disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution — are divided on the big climate bill that recently became law. But most can agree on one thing: It improves on what came before.

That’s not necessarily saying much. The last major climate bill in Congress — the doomed American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as Waxman-Markey, which died in the Senate in 2010 — offered little mention of disadvantaged communities and even less funding for them. Activists feared its provisions for emissions trading and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would have allowed fossil-fuel companies to keep polluting neighborhoods near oil, gas and coal operations. Environmental justice leaders weren’t at the table when the bill was written, which meant they were on the menu.