EPA to fund network of centers to help marginalized communities access environmental justice money

“There are communities waiting for (toxic) sites to get cleaned up. They are waiting for infrastructure to be built so their communities don’t flood.”

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SOURCEEcoWatch

Days into his presidency, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14008, mandating that 40 percent of federal climate, environment and energy funding go towards disadvantaged communities that have been exposed to more than their fair share of pollution. But how will these communities actually access this money? 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Thursday that it was channeling $177 million towards 17 Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers (EJ TCTACs) to help marginalized communities apply for federal grants.

“We know that so many communities across the nation have the solutions to the environmental challenges they face. Unfortunately, many have lacked access or faced barriers when it comes to the crucial federal resources needed to deliver these solutions,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “Today we’re taking another step to break down these barriers. Establishing these Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers across the nation will ensure all communities can access benefits from the President’s historic economic plan, which includes groundbreaking investments in clean air, clean water, and our clean energy future.”

Regan announced the new centers in New York City alongside Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) and WE ACT for Environmental Justice Co-Founder & Executive Director Peggy Shepard as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Investing in America tour. The announcement itself came on top of a Hudson River sewage treatment plant that has been turned into a community dance and music venue, AP News reported.

The EPA is partnering with the Department of Energy (DOE) on the centers, which will receive at least $10 million each to help their communities navigate the process of applying for and managing federal grant money. Fourteen centers will be linked to a different organization, including West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., or WE ACT. 

“We are honored to host the new TCTAC for @EPAregion2! And to help communities who have long faced barriers across the Region to access critical funding for #environmentaljustice projects,” the group wrote on Twitter

Other partner organizations are the University of Connecticut, the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico-Metro Campus, the National Wildlife Federation, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the Research Triangle Institute, Blacks in Green, University of Minnesota, New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona, San Diego State University, the Willamette Partnership, the University of Washington and Wichita State University.

“This grant from the EPA is a phenomenal opportunity for Wichita State to drive prosperity for rural and underserved communities, who unfortunately carry a disproportional share of pollution and environmental hazards,” Wichita State President Rick Muma said in a press release. “We look forward to the opportunity to advance environmental justice in our region and promote healthy growth for Kansas and our Midwestern neighbors.”

The EPA will also fund three national centers that will focus especially on helping Indigenous Tribes: the International City/County Management Association, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) and the National Indian Health Board. 

“The entire team at ISC is excited to start this journey,” the organization tweeted. 

This is the latest step the Biden administration has taken to prioritize environmental justice, following establishing a new EPA Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights in 2022 and releasing $550 million in environmental justice grants in February. However, something like the Technical Assistance Centers has been requested by impacted communities hoping to effectively access these funds, as AP News reported. 

“The money is there,” Robert Bullard, who directs the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice in Houston and sits on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, told AP News. “There are communities waiting for (toxic) sites to get cleaned up. They are waiting for infrastructure to be built so their communities don’t flood.”

However, if the communities aren’t able to apply for the grants in the first place, “it’s all for naught,” he said.

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