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News / Nation & World

EPA head defends $20B ‘green bank’ to fight climate change

Money would fund projects; critics call program ‘slush fund’

By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press
Published: April 5, 2024, 4:15pm

PHILADELPHIA — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday defended a new $20 billion federal “green bank” program, saying it will finance a variety of projects to create low-carbon solutions to combat climate change, including in disadvantaged communities that are most affected by pollution.

The money could fund tens of thousands of eligible projects ranging from residential heat pumps and other energy-efficient home improvements to larger-scale projects such as electric vehicle charging stations and community cooling centers, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

Republicans in Congress have called the program a “slush fund” and voiced concern over how the money will be used and whether there will be sufficient accountability and transparency from private groups that have received the money. The Republican-controlled House approved a bill last month to repeal the bank and other parts of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.

“Here’s the real deal: EPA received $20 billion to invest in climate solutions. We felt ‘hey, the government isn’t the best at doing this, so why not have a transparent grant competition nationwide?’” Regan said at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

“So we had a great competition. We had eight great national recipients. We have metrics for how they can use capital to finance some of these projects that we believe will create low-carbon solutions,’’ he said, adding that the agency consulted with commercial banks and other financial experts.

“Twenty billion dollars is a heck of a lot of money,’’ Regan said. “But we know based on the eight recipients that we’ve chosen, the metrics that we put in place, we’re going to pull hundreds of billions of (dollars in) private capital off the sidelines’’ for climate-related projects. “I feel really good about this program.’’

Regan, who has battled Republicans over a range of agency actions, including stricter emissions standards for cars, trucks and power plants, said it was “frustrating” to hear “some of the disingenuous attitudes from those on Capitol Hill who want to legislate public private partnerships … and then they complain about public-private partnerships” such as the green bank.

The program was created under the landmark climate law passed in 2022.

Formally known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, the $27 billion bank is one of many federal efforts to invest in solutions that cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and address human-caused climate change.

The bank’s goals are to reduce climate and air pollution and mobilize public and private capital in the communities that need it most.

A total of $14 billion was awarded Thursday to the National Clean Investment Fund, which designated three private groups that will partner with states and the private sector to provide affordable financing for projects across the country.

Another $6 billion was awarded to the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, which in turned granted money to five institutions that will work with other groups to establish regional hubs that make funding accessible to community lenders.