The South Dakota Capitol building in Pierre. (Getty Images)
A new federal program has the potential to transform South Dakota’s approach to climate change — should the state be smart enough to take it.
Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA launched the first phase of the Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CPRG) program, an initiative created by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act to fund local- and state-level climate action strategies.
The new program allocates $3 million to every state, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, to develop plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollutants. Because this is a noncompetitive grant, every state will receive the funds, but only if the governor’s office or a designated state agency submits a notice of intent to participate by March 31.
The program also allocates $1 million in planning grants to each of the nation’s 67 largest metropolitan areas, with additional funds available for territorial and tribal governments.
Jurisdictions that participate and complete their climate action plans become eligible to apply for a $4.6 billion pool of CPRG implementation grants to fund on-the-ground projects and initiatives to execute those plans. EPA will also provide assistance and peer-to-peer learning opportunities to help states leverage other federal funding streams for plan implementation.
In short, participation in the program will unlock millions of dollars in investments to help build homegrown clean industries and address pressing local issues while cutting climate change emissions.
Unlike the much-maligned Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that would have required each state to meet an assigned emissions reduction target for the power sector, the CPRG program allows states and cities flexibility in setting their own goals for sectors of their own choosing, and lines up resources to implement those self-determined strategies.
The program includes requirements for robust public engagement so that local governments, urban and rural communities, tribes, labor, community and faith-based organizations, industry, and the business community all have a chance to weigh in on the plan. Essentially, the CPRG program extends the opportunity for each state to take on climate action in its own image.
A climate plan crafted by South Dakotans, for South Dakotans could look like:
- Expanding incentives for our farmers and ranchers to practice conservation and adopt responsible soil management practices.
- Investing in smart grid updates to better accommodate our burgeoning renewable energy sector and take full advantage of our state’s vast wind and solar resources.
- Broadening weatherization assistance so that families can keep heating and energy costs down during our brutal winters.
- Investing in research and development of low-carbon technologies, to help South Dakota realize its ambitions of becoming a hub for science and innovation.
The CPRG invites states to engage with climate change issues on their own terms — not through regulations or mandates, but through innovation and investments that will bring real benefits at the community level. But it is up to states to step up and accept that invitation. With our elected officials seemingly allergic to anything climate-related, will South Dakota miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity?
If a state is foolish enough to decline the $3 million planning grant, those funds will instead be distributed to that state’s most populous metropolitan areas. In South Dakota, that means Sioux Falls and Rapid City, who would have until April 28 to either accept or cede the funds to a national pool. Given recent actions by the mayor of Sioux Falls to remove all mentions of “climate change” and “greenhouse gas” from a community-developed sustainability plan, it is unclear whether the leadership exists at any level in South Dakota to engage with this issue. Without that leadership, South Dakotans will be left behind.
Other states — and not just coastal climate hawks — have already seized this opportunity to invest in a cleaner, more resilient economy. Alabama, Nebraska, Missouri, and North Dakota are among the states that have already opted in. One Nebraska lawmaker voiced support for the program, astutely noting that it didn’t make “good business sense” to allow funds designated for Nebraska and provided by Nebraska taxpayers to go to another state.
Despite what you might hear from certain elected officials, nearly 70% of South Dakotans understand that climate change is happening and is caused by human activities, and 53% believe that the governor should be doing more to address it. With a week left to opt into the CPRG program, South Dakota has a choice: begin to engage on real solutions that work for our state, or sit back and watch our neighbors leave us in the dust.
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