The purpose of this research report is to provide an advocacy tool to Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice communities to help develop strategies, as well as to foster inquiry and information gathering regarding many of the IRA programs and funding schemes. Indigenous Peoples have recognition in the colonial legal system of Tribal Sovereignty, inherent customary rights, and Treaty reserved rights. In addition, Indigenous Peoples also have their respective Traditional Indigenous Knowledge which serves as a foundation among other things of their legal systems, inherent responsibilities to land, air and water, and the inherent relationships embodied in all of this. If unchecked, and without Free, Prior and Informed Consent, or at the very least meaningful consultation standards that are legally enforceable, much of what is in the IRA will potentially have impacts on many Indigenous Tribal interests.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funnels billions of dollars to false solutions like carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, critical minerals, offsets and nuclear energy. The continuation of the fossil fuel and extractive industries ensures that climate chaos will accelerate. Mother Earth is warning us that we are out of time. Measures to drastically reduce extraction and phase out fossil fuels must be at the forefront of all environmental and climate-related policies. As application deadlines to the IRA become more available, decisions are being made on the allocation of the funds, and programs are being developed, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) has developed this analysis to guide and inform Indigenous Peoples, Tribal nations, environmental justice communities and organizations.
The Indigenous Environmental Network situates the current US economy within a historically-constituted practice of exclusion. Indigenous Peoples, Black, Peoples of Color, (IPBPC), women and the poor already have a deep understanding of what it means to be exploited by colonial governments. Further, capitalism and extractivism is a mode of production based on racialized, sexist, and colonialist economic hierarchies, which are perpetuated today in the current politics of climate change economics.
The impacts of climate change intensifies the structural inequalities inherent in a system based on racial, gender and ethnic inequalities. It is in this framework that the Indigenous Environmental Network gives meaning to the term “environmental justice” and “Indigenous environmental justice” – understanding the term to include a deep connection to Indigenous inherent relationship to land, air and water, as well to race, ethnicity, gender, Indigeneity, and economic inequality.
Therefore, instead of focusing on provisions for obvious false solutions, this analysis focuses on the provisions that are hailed as funding for environmental justice communities, and by implication Indigenous environmental justice, even though the term environmental justice only appears about 10 times in the IRA.
The IRA does not define environmental justice, which leaves the definition up to the federal agencies that are distributing the money. Further, the terms that stand in as a proxy for environmental justice include: “underserved communities”, “low-income communities”, “Tribes”, and “Indian land”, among others.
In 2022, the US Senate Democrats issued a release stating that the IRA includes over $60 billion for “environmental justice priorities”. A key area of contention causing division among environmental justice organizations is based on claims that this bill provides sweeping funding for environmental justice communities. Proponents of the IRA continue to falsely claim this bill provides US$60 billion to alleged environmental justice communities. Much of so-called environmental justice is really based on funding mechanisms that already exist, that include loans and ‘competitive grants and funding to already existing projects.