The Green Bank for Low Income Communities

Affiliates Banks Environment Non-Profit

            New Orleans       The first thing we need to get clear is that the so-called “green bank” being touted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not a bank.  It’s a big pot of money, about $27 billion, that is part of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).  In reality, it’s an investment pool meant to prime the pump for greener activity by banks, investors, and regular people to achieve environmental progress.  The second thing to remember, as you get your arms around some clarity around the first order of business, is not to get confused about something commercial institutions call “green banking.”  That’s totally different and is about you not making them pay to send you postage or use tellers and checks, but to do all of your banking via the internet, and good luck with that too.

So back to the EPA’s green bank program focusing on lower income communities.  I’m not sure exactly how this is supposed to work at this point or how to access it, but the idea is a winner.  This pile of money is targeted for investment in “poor communities that are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.  This cash is seen as critical for funding key areas such as battery storage, electric-car charging, and building upgrades that often struggle to attract private-sector funding, particularly in low-income areas.”  To me, that says it is available for housing retrofits that could weatherize our families’ homes, upgrade and transition heating and cooling systems, and reduce the emissions that flow from our often leaky, poorly insulated homes and buildings.  We definitely need more of that and the people and groups who will do it!

Getting there could be a problem.  Every state will get a share of the money.  I read that Massachusetts already has a recently established state green bank, and they are hoping for $50 million.   Connecticut has had a green bank for several years and claims that for every $1 of public money, they leverage $7 in private funds for these projects.  All of this magic is supposed to happen with loans, guarantees, and partnerships.  Reports say that $20 billion is going “to a few national nonprofits that will distribute it to a network of local groups” with the other $7 billion to be “awarded a solar program targeting poor communities.”

Why does that make me wonder how much will really trickle down to families who live in our communities?  Too many of these national nonprofits have at best only a glancing relationship with such areas and more often a network of friends and affiliates, with everyone taking a slice of the money on the way down.  Add to that the kind of security that local banks and investors will want to maximize the funds, and you are likely talking about long-established community development operations having to make this happen, if they exist in your area.  When it comes to diving out money for these solar programs, there might be a lot of slips between the cup and the lips desperate for these resources as well.

I’m not trying to be negative, because on the face of it, all of this sounds good, but the devil is in the details, and so far, too many of those details are unknown, even as the EPA is on a fast track and wants to get all of this money out in only a little over a year.