Climate Change Infrastructure Subsidies Mainly Benefit the Rich

(p. A9) Mr. Biden has insisted that at least 40 percent of the benefits of federal climate spending will reach underserved places, which tend to be low income, rural, communities of color, or some combination of the three.

But historically, it is wealthier, white communities — with both high property values and the resources to apply to competitive programs — that receive the bulk of federal grants. And policy experts say it’s unclear whether, and how quickly, federal bureaucracy can level the playing field.

. . .

The new climate provisions in the infrastructure bill inject billions of dollars into competitive grant programs. These are pots of money that towns, cities and counties can access only by submitting applications, which federal agencies then rank, with funds going to applicants with the highest scores.

That system is designed to ensure that funding goes to the most worthwhile projects.

But it also hinges on something outside the control of the federal government: The ability of local officials to use sophisticated tools and resources to write successful applications. The result is a process that has widened the gap between rich communities and their less affluent counterparts, experts say.

The disparity begins even before the application process begins. That’s because local governments must be aware of the grant programs in the first place, which means having dedicated staff to track those programs. Then they need to design proposals that will score highly, and correctly complete the reams of required paperwork.

Even if they are awarded a grant, communities are required to pay a share of the project — often 25 percent, which is unaffordable for many struggling towns and counties.

Governments that can clear those obstacles face a final hurdle: Demonstrating that the value of the property that would be protected is greater than the cost of the project. That rule often excludes communities of color and rural areas, where property values are usually lower than in white communities.

. . .

The Biden administration has touted the program, called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, as a model that should be expanded. The infrastructure bill provides billions more to the program.

But most of the first round winners were wealthy, predominantly white areas in a handful of coastal states, federal data show.

More than half the money went to California, New Jersey and Washington State. The largest single recipient was a $68 million flood-control project in Menlo Park, Calif., where the median household income is more than $160,000, the typical home costs more than $2 million and only one in five residents are Black or Hispanic. The project is in line to get $50 million from FEMA.

For the full story, see:

Christopher Flavelle. $50 Billion Conundrum: Who Gets Climate Protection?” The New York Times (Saturday, December 4, 2021): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2021, and has the title “Billions for Climate Protection Fuel New Debate: Who Deserves It Most.”)

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