© 2022 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Black environmentalists concerned they were 'not at the table' to help craft Biden climate agenda

Valencia Gunder. (Courtesy)
Valencia Gunder. (Courtesy)

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed this month by President Biden, doesn’t just address mounting U.S. inflation. It also designates at least $40 billion for addressing climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and includes provisions for disadvantaged communities on the front lines of dangerous climate change side effects such as industrial pollution and hazardous waste.

Black environmentalists from the Black Hive Initiative have been watching the bill closely. The initiative connects more than 200 Black environmental leaders and organizations across the U.S.

“The fear is, who are these climate justice folks they’re talking to?” asks Valencia Gunder, national co-leader of the Black Hive. “We were in support of the Justice40 framework that will ensure that this investment actually makes it to the people who need it the most.”

The Justice40 initiative was the pledge the Biden administration made to ensure 40% of investments in climate action will directly benefit communities, specifically those of color who are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

“It was celebrated that this legislation was worked through community organizations and things like that. But none of these community organizations were Black and Indigenous,” Gunder says. “Black and Indigenous communities are not invited to the conversations.”

One major feature of the act deals with air pollution. It puts plans in place to monitor and reduce existing air pollution from factories, clean up cities close to those factories and implement cleaner energy alternatives to thwart the root of the problem. But as Gunder points out, when Black and Indigenous environmental groups are not consulted, there is no guarantee those efforts will address the communities most affected if money is not directed there.

Industrial toxic fumes and oil and gas production have also taken a heavy toll on the U.S. South. Gunder calls the Southern parts of Mississippi and Louisiana “Cancer Alley” because of the fumes from fossil fuel drilling offshore that pollute the air and have been linked to high rates of cancer in the area.

While there have been propositions to make fossil fuel production cleaner, like carbon capture policies that would redirect carbon emissions underground instead of releasing them into the atmosphere, Gunder says the ultimate goal is to completely eradicate the U.S.’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“These people are literally dying from breathing in the fumes. And the government is allowing these fossil fuel companies to continue to function and continue to lease land that is further harming us,” she says. “We don’t need technology. What I feel like we need is more common sense.”

Though the conversation around addressing climate change may feel new to some, Gunder says Black and Indigenous activists have been fighting for a safer environment in the U.S. virtually forever.

“It was actually Black communities who started the environmental justice movement. Now that the government is talking about it deeper and more loudly, I feel really good about that,” Gunder says. “But I do not feel super safe as a Black person around this legislation because it still does not speak to the direct issues that my community is having. So it does not guarantee Black futures.”


Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Grace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.