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EPA to award $100M to boost environmental justice programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is awarding $100 million in competitive grants for projects that advance environmental justice in communities disproportionately affected by industrial pollution and other hazards.

The funding, established through the 2022 climate and health law signed by President Joe Biden, marks the largest environmental justice grants the agency has ever offered. The projects are among the first from an expected $3 billion in block grants targeting underserved communities authorized under the new law.

The program will be overseen by EPA’s new office of environmental justice and external civil rights, which EPA Administrator Michael Regan created last year. The office includes more than 200 staff members at EPA headquarters and in 10 U.S. regions.

“Since day one, President Biden pledged to prioritize environmental justice and equity for all, and EPA is at the heart of delivering on that mission,” Regan said.

The funding announced Tuesday “is a key step that will help build strong partnerships with communities across the country and move us closer to realizing a more just and equitable future for all,” Regan said.

Grant applications are due April 10, with projects expected to begin as soon as October, EPA said.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who co-chairs the Senate’s environmental justice caucus, said the grants will “help deliver results for environmental justice communities that have been ignored for too long,″ including Chicago’s South Side and an industrial area in Louisiana often nicknamed “Cancer Alley.” The region includes dozens of chemical plants, refineries, fertilizer plants and other industrial sites that have long polluted air and water and caused health problems to nearby residents.

Access to clean air and clean water is more than an environmental issue, Duckworth said: “It’s a matter of health and safety, systemic racism and persistent discrimination against those in low-income communities. Every American deserves access to clean air and water — no matter their ZIP code, the color of their skin or the size of their paycheck.″

The EPA said it will provide $30 million in direct grants to community-based nonprofit organizations and partners, with $5 million reserved for small community-based groups with five or fewer full-time employees.

The program also will provide $70 million in funding to states, local governments and federally recognized tribes.

The EPA awarded $53.4 million in grants in November to enhance air quality monitoring near chemical plants, refineries and other industrial sites. The grants were funded by the climate law and a coronavirus relief plan approved by Congress in 2021.