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Celebrating Two Years of Equity-Centered Informed Analysis and Research

March 2023 marks Just Solution Collective’s 2nd Anniversary! In celebration, we look back at our research and analysis work as we continue driving community-created equity-centered solutions to the climate crisis.

Over the past two years, Just Solutions Collective’s (JSC) Researchers have provided informed analysis and research on the topics of community reinvestment strategies, energy, disaster resilience, federal climate policy and investments, and pollution. Our researchers, composed of our Senior Researchers, Senior Strategists, and partner experts, work to provide policy and research expertise to help develop and scale innovative, just, and durable climate policy solutions to build support for and center these solutions in the climate movement. 

As we enter our third year and as our team continues to grow, we look forward to providing informed analysis and research grounded in principles of justice, equity, and Just Transition. This blog overviews and highlights some of our research and policy analysis from the last two years. To learn more about our work, please visit our Solutions Library and Blog posts. 

Regenerative & Just 100% Policy Building Blocks 

In January 2020, the Just Solutions Collective, formerly known as the 100% Network, launched an effort to bring forward and coalesce the expertise from frontline communities into the Comprehensive Building Blocks for a Regenerative and Just 100% Policy. The Building Blocks document was designed primarily for frontline organizations looking to develop and implement their local policies with a justice framework. Secondarily it was created to foster alignment with environmental organizations and intermediary groups that are engaged in developing and advocating for 100% policies. This effort and the response we received to provide additional policy analysis and models, contributed to our pivot toward centering the needs, leadership, and solutions of BIPOC-Frontline communities, resulting in the creation of Just Solutions Collective, in 2021.

“This building blocks document contains valuable policy ideas that should be considered for any community planning a transition that includes increased renewable energy, sustainability, or clean energy technologies. It also thoughtfully includes language that can support frontline communities and Indigenous rights in the scope of energy transition.”

—Suzanne Singer, Ph.D., Co-Founder, Native Renewables

2021 Highlights

Innovative Climate Solutions

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. households were under economic stress. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems and communities continue to feel the health and financial impacts of the pandemic. Everyday needs like utilities and public transit became even more critical and apparent as an element of economic and environmental justice. 

Amongst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential elections, BIPOC and frontline communities continued to push for innovative climate solutions and wins. Whether it be on how Equitable Solar Policy Can Forward Economic and Climate Justice, as showcased in our 3-part blog series, The Rising Dawn. Or Green Banks: Driving Clean Energy Investments and Saving Families Money to leverage private capital to provide flexible and affordable long-term loans to fill market gaps and improve accessibility. An innovative community reinvestment strategy, led by our Senior Strategist, is the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), a ballot measure initiative to provide funding for climate action that advances racial and social justice. PCEF is the nation’s first municipal climate justice fund created and led by communities of color

With the start of 2021, the Washington State’s Clean Energy Transformation Act showcased itself as a step towards supporting the Transition to 100% Clean Energy in Washington, requiring electric utilities to demonstrate their immediate compliance with the planning provisions of the law. The core equity requirement is to ensure that “all customers benefit from the equitable distribution of benefits and reduction of burdens” in the transition. However, we still have a long way to go to see national improvements in our energy system. Our Just Energy reports, in collaboration with The Climate + Clean Energy Equity Fund, is a report series that describes critical considerations for achieving an equitable transition that addresses both environmental and economic justice. Designed for federal decision-makers and advocates, the three briefs cover 7 key considerations, energy burden, and air pollution reduction.

The Biden Administration 

As communities continued to battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and adjust to life post-lockdown, President Biden set forth his Commitment to the Climate Crisis in his Executive Order. Key things from the Executive Order include establishing a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, and Justice 40. Throughout the year we continued to track and provide analysis on Biden’s federal funding opportunities and what they mean for environmental justice communities. Biden’s climate and environmental justice bills, like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“IIJA”) is a critical investment in the country’s infrastructure, including an unprecedented $47 billion for climate resilience and reviewed what’s in the infrastructure bill for environmental justice. As well as our analysis of the “Renewable Electricity” spending in the Build Back Better Act, providing a starting point for policy advocates and environmental justice communities to weigh in on a potentially historic public investment in climate action and “human infrastructure.”

2022 Highlights

The Push to 100% Clean Energy

Action on climate change and clean energy, in particular, the push to 100% clean energy is growing momentum. However, communities disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change are often not included in discussions about solutions and their needs go unrecognized. As climate impacts rapidly and dramatically increase and the discussion of possible action grows, any policy to transition our energy system will likely mean increased costs for low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, unless explicit action is taken to prevent that outcome. Following our Just Energy series, JSC explored questions such as, “will clean energy impoverish the poor or help create a path to energy justice?” We know that investments that benefit society, reduce emissions, reduce bills and reduce assistance requirements are possible with the right policies and vigorous implementation. 

For these reasons, in the spring of 2022, JSC released an analytical and qualitative report on Energy Burden and the Clean Energy Transition: Challenges and just solutions from energy assistance practitioners and advocates from around the country. This report shines a light on energy burden reduction as an essential part of the clean energy transition. This report examines fundamental inequities of our current energy landscape and the opportunities to address the issue while our nation considers changes to the power sector. 

JSC also explored nuclear power and its impact on the transition to clean energy. The road to clean, equitable, affordable, timely decarbonization is a three-part blog series that explores the ways 1) nuclear power is neither clean, necessary, affordable nor timely, 2) decarbonizing the U.S. electricity sector by phasing out existing nuclear is technically, economically, and environmentally better and 3) trying to decarbonize with nuclear power and solar and wind all being significant parts of the system will make for an inequitable, polluting, costly, and insecure decarbonization.

Disaster Resilience & Climate Solutions  

In addition to energy, JSC published a series of blogs on the intersections of disaster resilience and environmental and climate justice. Our analysis, Calling it a “natural disaster” ignores what’s really to blame, and explores how the term “natural disaster” is often misused to describe any severe weather event that causes harm and damage to humans and property, however, all disasters from hurricanes, floods, and other climate hazards are a result of human response to these threats. The series also offers the unique role of BIPOC frontline environmental justice CBOs in disaster resilience and how CBOs can benefit from incorporating disaster resilience in their programming. Most recently, JSC’s published an analysis of the FEMA Equity Plan with recommendations for climate justice that covers what is in FEMA’s Equity Plan, whether the plan will achieve equity for BIPOC and frontline communities, and we identify recommendations for advocates.

Federal Climate Policy and Investments

Following the President’s Executive Order 13985, the White House announced the release of Equity Action Plans developed by nearly all federal agencies. Our analysis titled, What the Federal Equity Action Plans Are and Why It Matters to EJ, discusses what environmental and climate justice advocates need to know about this Executive Order, as well as the Equity Action Plans and other efforts that resulted from it. Understanding the requirements of EO 13985 and the efforts flowing from it can help advocates be more effective at advocating for agencies to fairly treat members of the communities most impacted by pollution and on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Similarly, our analysis, West Virginia v. EPA: What the Supreme Court Ruling Means for Environmental Justice, highlights the importance to recognize how this decision will specifically and differentially affect communities on the frontlines of climate change and how the West Virginia decision creates significant legal uncertainty for federal regulators across a range of issues.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), lauded as the biggest climate change legislation in the history of the United States passed the U.S. Senate on August 7, 2022, and was signed into law by President Biden on August 16. While acknowledging this achievement, it is important to understand this law in its broader context, including the potential harms enabled by the law. Our Analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides a detailed analysis of the environmental justice provisions in the IRA including beneficial investments, and also what policymakers and mainstream advocates overreach to suggest are environmental justice investments. 

In addition, there are significant obstacles to environmental justice communities and their residents realizing direct benefits from IRA benefits. The IRA included tax incentives accounting for the majority of the bill’s spending commitments. 

As previously highlighted in an issue brief co-published with the Roosevelt Institute, historically, energy tax credits have disproportionately benefited rich, white households. However, thoughtful implementation of the law in a way that centers justice can lead to significant improvements in equity outcomes. Our analysis titled, Energy Tax Credits and the IRA: Recommendations for Equitable Outcomes showcases our recommendations to the Department of Treasury and IRS.

Moving Forward in 2023

We are so grateful to the many individuals and organizations that make Just Solutions Collective possible. We look forward to many more years of building relationships across the movement, and in particular, working in partnership with state EJ-CJ organizations and coalitions to support their leadership and solutions to the climate crisis and a just transition. This blog does not cover all our work, it just provides an overview. To read more about our work please visit our Solutions Library and Blog posts. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved and celebrate our 2nd anniversary with us.