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Community Perspective

Federal infrastructure funds could offer local solutions

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Last week alone we saw multiple climate disasters across North America.

To the east, much of British Columbia has been consumed by flames while we watched our own community suffer fires at Chena Hot Springs. To the south, the images of a burning ocean in the Gulf of Mexico consumed us, while a heat dome encapsulated the Pacific Northwest. These disasters demonstrate how the climate crisis continues to compound events that further devastate communities and lands.

Meanwhile, federal government officials are offering up a bi-partisan infrastructure bill that comes nowhere close to addressing the concurrent climate, economic and racial equity crises we are facing. Not only does this bill lack the funding necessary to truly update our building, transportation, and energy infrastructure to modern low carbon technology, it has no labor, equity, or climate standards. It is critical that we fund an infrastructure package that both prepares us for the climate crisis and invests in communities that have been systematically oppressed for generations.

While elected leaders move into the next stage of negotiations, we must push for funding that supports a rapid and just transition of Alaska’s energy infrastructure and economy. We cannot settle for anything less. The next infrastructure bill must provide for a just transition by respecting Indigenous sovereignty, supporting workforce transition and lands remediation, while implementing strong labor, equity, and environmental standards.

For example, establishing a Fossil Fuel Community Investment could provide $4 billion over 10 years for community revitalization and economic development in fossil fuel-dependent states. Other investment ideas, such as the Clean Community Energy Fund, can provide grants to municipalities to undertake decarbonization and adaptation projects. These projects can relieve rural communities of energy debt burdens, support efforts to ensure affordable power for low-income households, and boost rural electrification and energy efficiency. The Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act also provides tangible ways to support young Alaskan workers as well as the economy overall. The bill seeks to employ 1.5 million people to clean up pollution in communities, protect ecosystems, and build community resilience to climate disasters. It also provides robust funding to plug nearly 500,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and mines.

For this legislation to be effective and just in the long term, funding should be directly allocated to communities most impacted by climate change and include strong standards which respect and strengthen tribal sovereignty, ensuring that Alaska Native tribes and villages have free prior and informed consent and can exercise their full civil and adjudicatory authority over all lands and waters within their exterior boundaries.

We are also excited to see at least 50% of new investments for frontline communities that have borne the brunt of systemic racism, environmental injustice and economic exclusion, including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Arab, Asian and Pacific Islander communities; strong wage and benefit guarantees and access to unions, domestic content standards and provisions to advance labor standards including those in the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act; environmental justice and climate standards to ensure that investments repair, rather than add to, historic harms, and contribute to meeting ambitious climate targets to keep us below 1.5 degrees of global warming.

As Alaskans studying these issues have been saying for years, without justice and without jobs, we cannot effectively address climate change as it is directly intertwined with the economic and social inequities we collectively face. This is not simply a moment for climate solutions, this is a time to reckon with these overlapping crises and build a future that is safe and sustainable for everyone. To find out more and support community led efforts to identify and implement solutions, please get involved with the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition at fairbanksclimateaction.org

Jessica J. Girard is founding director of Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.

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