On October 24, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced nearly $128 million to fund 186 grey and green infrastructure renovation projects across the country that advance environmental justice as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
The organizations, which EPA has selected through its Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Cooperative Agreement and Environmental Justice Government-to-Government programs, will use the funds to ensure disadvantaged communities that have historically suffered from underinvestment have access to clean air and water and climate resilience solutions in alignment with the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative.
Thanks to President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act—the largest climate investment in U.S. history—this is the largest investment ever announced under these two longstanding EPA programs. This is the first in a series of environmental justice grant announcements the agency will announce before the end of the year.
“For too long, historically disadvantaged communities have disproportionately shouldered the burdens of pollution and the worsening impacts of climate change,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act’s unprecedented environmental justice block grants, EPA is helping communities across our nation build healthier futures. I commend the Biden Administration for its continued commitment to ensuring that all Americans have clean air and clean water, regardless of their zip code.”
EPA has selected 98 Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Cooperative Agreement recipients to receive up to $500,000 each, and 88 Environmental Justice Government-to-Government grant recipients to receive up to $1,000,000 each to support these efforts. The selections announced today account for approximately $104 million in Inflation Reduction Act funding with additional funding provided through regular annual appropriations to EPA.
“All bold action that we take to address the climate crisis must be rooted in environmental justice. That is why I was proud to support the Inflation Reduction Act, which funds the Environmental Justice Government-to-Government grant. This federal grant funding from the EPA will finally address systemic racism related to environmental health in South Seattle and South King County,” said U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07).
“The Biden-Harris administration’s Justice40 initiative is doing great work to undo decades of underinvestment, as poor people and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of the climate crisis, leading to adverse health outcomes. This investment, along with others, will allow our city and county to ensure that historically underserved communities have the resources they need to stay healthy,” she added.
Every grant announced today delivers on President Biden’s commitment to advance equity and justice throughout the United States. The two grant programs directly advance the President’s transformational Justice40 Initiative to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized by underinvestment and overburdened by pollution.
“By providing these investments to community-led initiatives that will protect and clean up our nation’s air and water, we are helping protect the health and safety of all of America’s families,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). “As co-founder of the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus, I’m proud to see the Biden Administration continue to prioritize long-underserved communities that have been disproportionally saddled with pollution and abandoned infrastructure, by providing them with the ability to achieve the cleaner air and water they need and deserve.”
The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (EJCPS) Program
EPA’s EJCPS program provides financial assistance to eligible organizations working to address local environmental or public health issues in their communities. The 98 EJCPS selections, which are all funded through Inflation Reduction Act, will work to address the diverse set of challenges facing communities with environmental justice concerns, including threats from wildfires and other climate impacts; indoor and outdoor air quality; access to healthy food; water quality and toxic pollution; and the ability to develop health impact assessments, emergency response plans, and economic revitalization initiatives.
The program builds upon President Biden’s Executive Orders 13985 and 14008, creating a designation of funds exclusively for small nonprofit organizations, which are defined as having 5 or fewer full-time employees, thus ensuring that grant resources reach organizations of lower capacity that historically struggle to receive federal funding. Eleven of the organizations selected for EJCPS this year are small nonprofit organizations, receiving over $1.6 million in total.
Highlights from the EJCPS grant selections include the following:
- 2CMississippi (Jackson, MS) will replace abandoned, blighted properties in the most overburdened and underserved communities in Jackson, Mississippi with a system of 15 microparks to address climate change-induced flood risk by increasing equitable access to green infrastructure while strengthening community cohesion.
- TerraGraphics International Foundation Inc (Boise, ID) will adapt the federal National Incident Management System (NIMS4MIM) framework rapid response strategy for disaster preparedness, including wildfire and mining emergencies, in Shoshone-Paiute Tribe of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation (DVIR) in Boise, Idaho. This system will increase local knowledge of emergency preparedness, enhance technical capacity to assess potential mining impacts, strengthen collaborative decision making in emergency response for mines, protect DVIR’s environmental, wildlife, and cultural resources for future generations, and support adaption of the response system with other Tribes.
- The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (Boston, MA), a small non-profit organization, will engage, educate, and organize Boston Public School youth through youth-led workshops held in classrooms, clubs, and after-school programs. This will help build their collective power and influence over repairs, renovations, and new construction in the school district. They also will conduct a Health Impact Assessment based on project recommendations.
- Accompanying Returning Citizens with Hope (Columbus, OH) will support individuals who are reentering the workforce society after serving prison terms with secure employment through their Reentry Solar workforce program focused on low-cost clean energy solar projects for nonprofits in Columbus, Ohio. This skilled emerging workforce will play a pivotal role in reducing 7,000,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions over 20 years and yield the green energy equivalent of powering 85,000 homes with solar for a year.
The Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) Program
EPA’s EJG2G provides funding at the state, local, territorial, and Tribal level to support government activities in partnership with community-based organizations that lead to measurable environmental or public health impacts in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms. The 88 EJG2G selections will address many environmental justice challenges, including indoor and outdoor air quality; exposure to toxic pollution in homes; water quality; access to healthy food and affordable transportation; and emergency preparedness.
Highlights from the EJG2G grant selections include the following:
- The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ) and its partners will fill gaps in radon awareness, testing, and mitigation in a campaign to reduce radon’s impacts in low-income homes in three pilots across North Dakota. NDDEQ and partners will distribute 600 radon tests to the pilot regions, improve existing and develop new radon information for Limited English Proficiency individuals, and create healthy homes for 50 low-income families by providing radon testing and mitigation services.
- Through the Flagstaff Regional Resilience Project, the City of Flagstaff (Arizona) and its partners will implement a wildfire-focused project that will develop a transferable “hub and spoke” model for community-led Resilience Hubs and corresponding “spoke” activities, which include expanding air quality data and improving health outcomes for those affected by wildfire smoke/dust.
- The Home Electrification & Revitalization Opportunity (HERO) program (Rochester, NY) will create sustainable, all-electric homes that incorporate air-source heat pumps, high levels of insulation and air sealing, heat pump water heaters, electric appliances, rooftop solar where feasible, and electric vehicle charging into houses rehabilitated through the City of Rochester’s existing whole-house rehabilitation programs. Through HERO, the City and its partners will improve electrification and clean energy for city residents disproportionately overburdened by the impacts of climate change who are least able to adapt to these impacts.
“No President has invested more in environmental justice than President Biden, and under his leadership we’re removing longstanding barriers and meaningfully collaborating with communities to build a healthier future for all,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Together, these community-driven projects will improve the health, equity, and resilience of communities while setting a blueprint for local solutions that can be applied across the nation.”
As one example of a state-level impact, in Massachusetts the EPA identified Milford, Somerville, Stoughton, Amherst, Chicopee, and South Hadley to work with the Agency on stormwater management through two collaborative problem-solving projects over the coming year.
The municipalities were selected to receive in-kind technical assistance from EPA to advance environmental justice for disadvantaged communities within the Charles River Watershed, Mystic River Watershed, Neponset River Watershed, and the Pioneer Valley (Connecticut River Watershed).
“Communities, especially overburdened ones, should not worry that when a storm hits, flooding could fill their basement. They also should know that storm runoff won’t dump nutrients in their lakes, ponds, and rivers and cause unhealthy algal blooms. Anyone who knows me knows I will take any opportunity to swim in our New England waterways. Every person should have that opportunity to safely play in the rivers and seas that surround us,” said EPA Regional Administrator David W. Cash. “For environmentally overburdened and under-resourced communities, it is especially important to address stormwater runoff challenges to improve water quality.”
Over the coming year, an EPA project team will work with staff from the selected communities in the Boston area, their watershed associations, the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, and Eastern Research Group. Another project team will focus on the Pioneer Valley and will work with staff from the selected communities, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Horsely Whitten Group, and the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center.
For both projects, the teams will meet to discuss challenges and solutions for effective nutrient management through retrofits for targeted stormwater management in communities with environmental justice concerns.
The effort will be particularly focused on low-cost green infrastructure options that align local needs with the municipalities’ maintenance capabilities and provide additional benefits to communities with environmental justice concerns. Specifically, the municipalities expressed interest in the following topics:
- Milford is interested in upgrading existing municipal stormwater controls to ensure stormwater is treated effectively and in learning about small-scale, cost-effective stormwater management solutions that are appropriate for municipal and private properties in densely populated areas closest to the Charles River.
- Somerville is interested in maximizing opportunities for stormwater practices focused on infiltration techniques that are effective in highly urbanized areas and gaining a better understanding of how to effectively maintain these practices. In addition, Somerville is interested in learning about asset management tracking of public and private stormwater control measures.
- Stoughton is interested in learning about maintenance schedule tracking tools for public and private stormwater controls and learning about streamlined approaches to maintain a successful stormwater control program.
- Amherst is interested in learning about developing more reliable funding mechanisms to increase the number of nature-based solutions and green infrastructure implementations to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the town.
- Chicopee is interested in balancing the importance of managing stormwater flooding and modernizing its stormwater treatment strategy to address more frequent and intense storms with a reliable funding stream through their existing stormwater utility.
- South Hadley is interested in learning about various cost-effective green infrastructure options that are easy to install to increase resilience and improve water quality in receiving waters. Specifically, the town is interested in tackling challenges related to nitrogen pollution from stormwater.
The expected outcome of the effort is a tailored stormwater management strategy for each municipality, as well as important progress toward improving the water quality impacts of stormwater runoff. The results of this collaborative effort will build capacity and useable tools that will be applicable to all municipalities and provide a strategic approach to prioritizing stormwater management in communities that have environmental justice concerns.
Photo of flooding in Massachusetts courtesy of the National Weather Service.