EPA Allocates US$50 Million Toward Environmental Justice Initiatives Under The American Rescue Plan

    Under EPA’s State Environmental Justice Cooperative Agreement (SEJCA) program, the agency is awarding its first competitive grants focusing directly on the unequal impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on communities of color, low-income communities, and other vulnerable populations.

    Michael S. Regan was sworn in as the 16th Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency on March 11, 2021, becoming the first black man and second person of color to lead the US EPA. The American Rescue Plan Act was signed the same day he was sworn in. (Image Courtesy Of The US EPA)

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will provide US$50 million for environmental justice (EJ) initiatives through funds allocated to EPA under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress designated this funding for grants, contracts, and other agency activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in underserved communities through a range of local initiatives.

    “We know how important it is to put funding to work in environmentally overburdened, economically underserved areas, and today we’re excited to let our communities know that thanks to the ARP, help is here,” said Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA is drawing on its many years of experience working with communities and organizations that strive for environmental justice to ensure these funds will deliver real-world results for those who need it most.”

    At an event at the Ashburton Filtration Plant in Baltimore, Administrator Regan announced that US$200,000 is going to the YH2O mentoring program in Baltimore City. YH20 is an on-the-job training program that prepares young adults to be employed in full-time jobs within the water industry. Participants are involved in water quality monitoring, sampling, and reporting as they develop skills to improve water quality in urban and rural communities and ultimately transition into water infrastructure jobs.

    Moving forward, EPA will also work to award an additional US$50 million provided under the ARP for enhanced air quality monitoring, including plans to use a portion of these funds to solicit proposals from community groups, and state, local, and tribal air agencies to conduct monitoring of pollutants of greatest concern in communities with health outcome disparities.

    Commentary

    EPA is assisting under-resourced communities by quickly getting out ARP funding to leverage important programs that improve air quality, drinking water, revitalization of brownfields, and diesel emissions from buses in low-income communities and communities of color. Under EPA’s State Environmental Justice Cooperative Agreement (SEJCA) program, the agency is awarding its first competitive grants focusing directly on the unequal impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on communities of color, low-income communities, and other vulnerable populations. Projects include training, developing citizen-science tools, pollution monitoring, and educational campaigns to enable EJ advocates, scientists, and decision-makers to address pollution and create thriving communities.

    “Taking on environmental injustice is necessary for present and future generations to thrive,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “I thank the EPA for recognizing this and bolstering our local efforts to build a cleaner, greener, more equitable Baltimore. This investment will support Baltimore YH2O.

    “We must always see investments in our infrastructure as investments in our communities, including not only roads and bridges and pipes and drains, but also people,” said Senator Ben Cardin. “Infrastructure means jobs. Infrastructure means opportunities — opportunities to make a lasting difference, and opportunities to learn and refine the skills on which strong careers are built. That’s why I am excited to help underscore the importance of the ARP grant announced today to the Baltimore DPW YH20 mentoring program. These are exactly the type of targeted, community-focused investments we need to continue making in this city and country alike.”

    “Every Marylander needs access to clean, safe drinking water,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen.  “This federal investment will support critical workforce training in preventing and reducing water pollution, which will not only help us protect public health by ensuring safe drinking water but also prepare more Marylanders for careers in this field. I was proud to help secure these funds within the ARP and will continue working in Congress and with Administrator Regan to provide resources to upgrade our water infrastructure and address environmental inequities across our state.”

    Underserved Communities

    The ARP Act of 2021 was signed into law on March 11, 2021. It provides funds to address health outcome disparities from pollution and the COVID–19 pandemic.

    Funding currently being distributed totals approximately US$2.8 million for 14 EJ-focused projects, with more to be announced soon throughout the country. In addition to the Baltimore City grant, the announcement includes funding for the following projects in underserved communities:

    • City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin – for outreach and education through a Healthy People, Homes and Neighborhood campaign.
    • City of Fort Collins, Colorado – for a housing intervention program targeting indoor air quality.
    • South Coast Air Quality Management District, California – to establish an Air Quality Academy to provide resources and training to improve environmental literacy and air quality data.
    • Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, California – for a community health worker pilot program on asthma awareness.
    • Public Health-Seattle & King County, Washington – for community health worker training on healthy homes and home assessments.
    • Tohono O’odham Tribal Nation, Arizona – for developing local plans to address air quality issues.
    • Virginia Department of Environmental Quality – for developing and implementing an EJ training academy and EJ map-based tool.
    • Alabama Department of Environmental Management – for public education on air pollution and disinfectants.
    • City of Houston, Texas – to launch the Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira public education campaign to creatively engage with communities about clean air and COVID-19.
    • City of Madison, Wisconsin – to implement Intervene Against COVID-19, a public education, training, and emergency planning program.
    • City of Hartford Department of Health and Human Services, Connecticut – to implement a new strategy to increase outreach on asthma and environmental hazards.
    • City of San Pablo, California – to deploy an afterschool internship program for disadvantaged high school students to raise awareness and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
    • Massachusetts Department of Health – to support the Asthma Prevention and Control Program which seeks to improve asthma outcomes in multiple underserved communities.

    Fund Distribution

    EPA also announced the specific ways in which it will distribute the US$50 million in ARP funds. A breakdown is provided below:

    • US$16,650,000 will be used to fund EJ grants. This includes State EJ Cooperative Agreement awards (SEJCA), EJ collaborative problem-solving (EJCPS), and EJ small grants (EJSG). Tribes and territories are eligible for each of these programs and the application requests have closed for this fiscal year. This funding also helps with capacity building, training and assessments, the Puerto Rico drinking water systems capacity assessment, and a new Appalachia Initiative for Revitalization. It will provide technical assistance and environmental youth STEM training in overburdened communities.
    • US$7,000,000 will fund a tailored use of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) rebate program to address priority EJ issues for reducing diesel pollution. This DERA rebate program will fund electric school buses using screening criteria with the goal of reaching fleets in underserved communities with multiple air quality and health challenges.
    • US$5,130,000 will be used to expand civil and criminal enforcement to include monitoring near low-income communities and drinking water sources for pollution including air toxics and hazardous metals. It also supports EJ analyses related to oil and gas production and refining, along with support for environmental crime victim outreach.
    • US$5,000,000 will help communities tackle the challenge of assessing, cleaning up, and preparing brownfield sites for redevelopment.
    • US$4,850,000 will go to children’s health issues and will fund the Children’s Healthy Learning Environments Grant and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs). PEHSUs build capacity in vulnerable communities to reduce children’s environmental exposures in child-occupied settings and address children’s COVID-19 environmental health risks.
    • US$4,700,000 will be used for drinking water and compliance monitoring in rural and tribal areas. This supports small and underserved public water systems and wastewater treatment facilities through in-person technical assistance, including a circuit rider program, and supports integrating EJ into EPA permit-writing.
    • US$2,150,000 will support the agency’s community driven solutions effort to collaboratively build community capacity to address air and water issues in underserved communities. Specialized technical assistance will help align school reopening investments with clean air and neighborhood cooling shelter needs and promote equitable resilience and revitalization.
    • US$1,600,000 will support the Tribal General Assistance Program. This program supports efforts by tribes to engage their community members on priority EJ water and air quality issues. Tribes and indigenous organizations will also be eligible for all the above support mechanisms.
    • US$720,000 will be used to enhance the development of EJSCREEN, the EJ analysis tool and support related resources.
    • US$700,000 is allocated for a climate protection program to advance data analytics work in the Office of Air and Radiation to identify cumulative burdens and improve equity outcomes for vulnerable communities, and to advance regulatory analytics and policy modeling to better incorporate environmental justice considerations.
    • US$500,000 will support new methods of outreach and support for those performing analysis and outreach related to critical EJ issues in the oil and gas sector.
    • US$1,000,000 will be used for administrative costs pursuant to the 2% reserved in the law for this purpose.