EPA unveils $100M for environmental justice

By Kelsey Brugger | 01/10/2023 01:28 PM EST

Michael Regan.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan stands near a petroleum refinery as he conducts a television interview, while touring neighborhoods that abut the refinery, in Reserve, La., last year. Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Tuesday unveiled $100 million in grants for environmental justice.

The announcement furthers the Biden administration’s push to infuse federal dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act into long-neglected communities. In all, the law contains $3 billion in funding for environmental justice grants.

“This is a great shot in the arm,” Regan told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We all know communities know their problems better than the federal government does. … We know we are going to see different types of grants from all over the country.”

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The agency will offer the grants in two categories. The first will provide $30 million directly to community-based nonprofits through its Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Program.

The program will back nonprofits, with $5 million going to small organizations with five or fewer full-time employees. The agency plans to fund about 50 awards of $500,000 and 30 awards of $150,000.

The second grant category will give $70 million to state, local and tribal governments that work with nonprofits. The “government-to-government” money will support about 70 projects of up to $1 million each for a three-year period.

EPA said projects that address climate change or disaster resiliency, conduct health impact assessments, or are located in rural areas would be given special consideration.

EPA will host workshops to help facilitate the submission process, Regan said. Applications are due in April, and he said projects should start in October.

For years, the agency has faced resource and staff challenges, with years of funding cuts from Congress and high employee departures during the Trump administration.

Last fall EPA stood up a new national Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights Office that has been staffed with 200 people. Half of the personnel is spread at the 10 regional offices throughout the country.

“They will be the eyes, the ears, the brains” behind spending the $3 billion in total grants, Regan said.

Democratic lawmakers, who passed the Inflation Reduction Act without any Republican support, were quick Tuesday to hail the news.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he urged his colleagues to “embrace the golden rule and support robust clean air and climate investments for disadvantaged communities.”

“Thanks to our legislative success, the tireless work of stakeholders and the commitment of the Biden-Harris administration, we are now seeing the single-largest investment ever from EPA to advance environmental justice,” he said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, joined the call with Regan today and lauded the effort to improve health, safety and systemic racism. Both lawmakers are supporters of broad environmental justice legislation.

Duckworth said, “I’m hopeful that today, we’re making important advances toward ending this crisis.”

Regan said he would unveil even larger funding opportunities in the coming months.

“Stay tuned,” he said.

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