WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is making $2 billion available to community groups, states and tribes to clean up pollution and develop clean energy in disadvantaged communities in what officials called the largest-ever investment in environmental justice.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan called the grant program unprecedented and said it “has the promise to turn disadvantaged and overburdened areas into healthy, resilient and thriving communities for current and future generations.”
“Folks, this is historic,'' Regan told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. The program, funded by the sweeping climate law signed last year by President Joe Biden, is aimed at poor and minority communities “that have long been overlooked and forgotten” and struggle to gain access to federal funding, Regan said.
The climate law authorized $3 billion for underserved communities burdened by pollution, including $1 billion that has already been allocated.
Regan, the first Black man to lead EPA, has made environmental justice a top priority and has visited a number of poor and minority communities in the South, Appalachia and Alaska in a years-long “Journey to Justice” tour.
Biden has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to environmental justice, including an executive order in April to create a White House Office of Environmental Justice.
The grant program, which will be available immediately, will be overseen by EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, which Regan created last year. The grants are aimed at nonprofits and other locally-based groups that will partner with cities, states, tribes or colleges and universities to boost climate resiliency and adaptation; mitigate urban “heat islands” and wildfires; monitor air and water pollution; reduce indoor air toxics; and boost zero-emissions transportation such as bikes and electric vehicles.
The program is intended to address multiple, overlapping problems in poor communities instead of trying to take on problems "one small grant at a time,” said John Podesta, Biden's senior adviser on clean energy.
About 150 community-driven projects are expected to win grants ranging from $10 million to $20 million each, officials said. Another 20, smaller projects will be funded to improve communication between communities and the government. Those grants are expected to total about $1 million to $3 million apiece.
In recognition of the historic difficulties that targeted groups have in learning about and applying for federal grants, about $200 million will be made available for technical assistance, Regan said. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis, and groups that do not receive funding in early rounds will be able to reapply, he said. The program will remain open for a year to ensure maximum participation by a range of groups nationwide.
The EPA also identified five targeted investment areas with unique needs or geography to compete for funding. Tribes in Alaska will be eligible for $150 million for cleanup of contaminated lands and other projects, while $300 million will be set aside for tribes in the lower 48 states. Territories and unincorporated communities will each be eligible for $50 million in funding, while communities near the Southern border will receive up to $100 million to address cross-border pollution and other challenges.
The grant program comes as House Republicans have targeted spending in the climate law, known as the Inflation Reduction Act. A GOP spending proposal would rescind $1.4 billion in environmental justice grants. Regan, Podesta and other officials vowed to fight the Republican plan, which Biden has strongly opposed.