President Biden had ambitious plans, with the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), to rebuild America’s aging infrastructure and revitalize our economy by fighting climate change through creating green jobs, reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and championing environmental justice.
In the scant few years since the passage of these monumental laws, changes are already taking root. For example, in Maryland, funding is flowing to various sectors of the state — private and public — for grid modernization, transportation planning, funding green banks, and cleaning polluted air, and all of it in the service of environmental justice.
Funding Private Owners
In September 2023, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced via its IRA funded Green and Resilient Retrofit Program that it was providing grants and loan commitments of nearly $2 million to property owners in Maryland participating in HUD-Assisted Multifamily Housing programs for climate resilience and energy and water efficiency improvements. These improvements include installation of heat-wave resilient cool roofs and fire-resistant roofs, on-site solar power systems, insulation and air sealing, heat pumps, energy efficient windows, and similar upgrades. Additional funding will be made available in the future to enable building owners to continue to invest in technologies and energy systems to reduce energy costs and GHG emissions to make properties healthier and safer for low-income residents.
Climate Access Fund, a non-profit green bank, was, in August 2023, awarded a $100,000 Energizing Rural Communities Prize to work with on-the-ground partners to expand community solar sites to benefit low-income households in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties of western Maryland. This prize was part of a $1 billion Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas Program created by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations funded by the IRA.
Funding the State
Federal funds from the IRA (and BIL), however, are not just for individuals and entities. The State of Maryland is also set to receive $8.7 million to modernize the power grid from the BIL funded Grid Resilience State and Tribal Formula Grant to “improve the resilience and reliability of the power grid, critical infrastructure, and essential services, especially in disadvantaged and frontline communities.” The State has said that the funds will be “used to invest in carbon-neutral energy technologies that can help the state meet [GHG] reduction goals” and for clean energy workforce development.
The Maryland Department of Environment also received $497,861 in IRA funding in July 2023 to develop a comprehensive, community-driven strategy to identify and combat air pollutants in the low-income, minority communities of Cheverly, Curtis Bay and Turner Station. These historically underserved areas have all experienced environmental and health disparities due to air pollution at disproportionate levels compared to other neighborhoods. MDE “will work with community partners to install a hyper-local network of sensors to monitor air quality in these communities, and use data collected and community recommendations to implement pollution exposure and risk reduction measures like trainings, action plans to mitigate pollution, and community workforce development groups.” Redressing the harms to the communities of Cheverly, Curtis Bay and Turner Station is critical to advancing environmental justice.
Funding Local Jurisdictions
Even local jurisdictions are eligible to receive BIL funding. Under the BIL’s Safeguarding Tomorrow Revolving Loan Fund program, administered by FEMA, Maryland will receive a portion of “$50 million in capitalization grants to help communities reduce vulnerability to natural hazards and disasters.” These capitalization grants are low-interest loans to local communities to help local jurisdictions fund on the ground “hazard mitigation projects that build community climate resilience.” Envisioned projects include flood control measures, zoning changes and land-use planning changes for climate change mitigation, and required adoption of resilient building codes.
Further, the City of Baltimore, another local jurisdiction, under the BIL funded Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation will receive $2 million to plan the redesign (or removal) of a highway spur caused by the construction of US 40/Franklin-Mulberry Expressway. When this expressway was constructed in 1975, historically Black communities — comprising 971 homes and 62 businesses — were demolished, displacing more than 1,500 people. This project will reconnect the separated communities and redress the “inequities and improv[e] safety, access, opportunity, and innovation in West Baltimore.”
BIL and IRA: More to Come
The initial BIL and IRA funds disbursed in Maryland thus far are varied in scope and reach, and are much needed to support efforts to address climate change and advance climate justice in the state. While this initial effort is to be applauded, more work must continue to ensure anthropogenic GHG emissions are reduced, and especially, effort must be focused on dismantling systems that have disproportionately directed the impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color who are the least responsible for, and who can least bear, the burdens of these impacts. The funding support of the BIL and IRA plants seeds of hope that fighting climate change in a just and equitable manner is possible—just look at Maryland.