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First Look at How EPA Will Spend $32 Billion in Environmental Justice Grants

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Since the Inflation Reduction Act allocated $60 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to accelerate environmental justice work, the EPA has been busy figuring out how to spend it.

Some $32 billion will be broken into grant programs with at least 40 percent of that money ($12.8 billion) going to projects that advance equity for racial minorities and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality, EPA documents show.

The specifics of how the money will be spent are being decided now, as the EPA considers public comment and prepares the parameters for applications, which are expected to open in the summer of 2023.

Broadly, the $32 billion includes $5 billion for Climate Pollution Reduction Grants and nearly $27 billion for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).

Solar Bucks

Within the $27 billion, the Zero-Emissions Technologies Program will award $7 billion in competitive grants to “provide financial and technical assistance to projects that deploy residential and community solar, associated storage technologies, and related upgrades,” the EPA website says. Up to 60 grants are expected to be awarded through this program.

Funding priorities for the $20 billion will be described in an upcoming Notice of Funding Opportunity.

Unlike a typical grant program, the EPA will not provide grants directly to projects. Instead, it will give grants to eligible states, tribes, territories, municipalities, and nonprofits, and those grantees will then provide loans, grants, and other forms of financial and technical assistance to eligible projects.

Communities, small businesses, and individual households will be able to seek funding from these grantees and the indirect recipients the grantees fund, such as community development financial institutions and credit unions.

This program “will support the creation of high-paying jobs. EPA expects to award between 2 and 15 grants through this program,” according to the website.

Upon the announcement of the GGRF in mid-February, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the $27 billion would leverage public and private investments in clean energy projects for the underserved, and it would likely result in the largest-ever federal investment in rooftop and community solar projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Unelected Nonprofits Managing Tax Dollars

The Climate Pollution Reduction Grants include $550 million for the EPA’s new Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking program, which will go to up to 11 entities to serve as grantmakers to community-based projects that reduce pollution.

Grantmakers will be community-based nonprofit organizations or partnerships between nonprofits and universities or tribal nations.

The grantmakers will each be given $50 million in taxpayer money, and each will use some of those funds to develop its own simplified process for grant application “so that organizations that historically have faced barriers to receiving funding can more seamlessly apply for grants that address environmental harms and risks,” the EPA said in a statement about the program.

Then the Grantmakers will begin awarding subgrants to community-based organizations that they choose, no later than early 2024.

Pricey Planning

The $5 billion in Climate Pollution Reduction Grants the EPA announced this week is a two-phase plan.

First, $250 million will be split among all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Each is eligible to receive $3 million to write a plan to cut climate pollution. Participation will require each state government to develop or update a detailed climate action plan. The policies that come out of those action plans may be felt by consumers. States have until March 31 to opt in to this grant.

This $250 million also includes funding for each of the 67 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. They are eligible to receive $1 million each for plans to tackle climate pollution locally.

Once the climate plans are written, phase two is $4.6 billion to be spent on implementation of those plans.

More for Nonprofits

In January, the EPA announced $100 million for Environmental Justice Grants, including $30 million in funding directly to community-based nonprofit organizations with $5 million reserved for small community-based nonprofit organizations with five or fewer full-time employees.

The EPA will make 50 awards of $500,000 and 30 awards of $150,000.

Details of what the money will do depends on the applications (due April 10) that come in from the nonprofits. The EPA will give special consideration to these focus areas: projects addressing climate change, disaster resiliency, and/or emergency preparedness; projects located in or benefitting rural areas; and projects conducting Health Impact Assessments.

“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,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said in a statement when the funding was announced. “Access to clean air and clean water isn’t only an environmental issue—it’s a matter of health and safety, systemic racism and persistent discrimination against those in low-income communities. I’m hopeful that today, we’re making important advances toward ending this crisis.”

Congressional Oversight

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, and Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Energy Policy, and Regulatory Affairs, sent a Feb. 27 letter to the EPA (pdf), asking for assistance in conducting oversight of the environmental justice (EJ) grants.

The letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan requests documents, information, and a staff-level briefing to ensure that the EPA is mitigating the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer resources.

The EPA has until March 13 to produce the documents.

“The EPA’s own case studies for EJ grant programs demonstrate weak standards for grantees to practically address environmental concerns,” the letter says, adding that grantees failed to clearly
define health or environmental concerns, articulate intended results, and continued to engage in activities that may not be effective and “did logically lead to the desired environmental and/or public health [result].”

“Oversight mechanisms in these programs are lacking, and adequate metrics for applicants must be imposed to avoid funneling money into vague projects that will enable a $100 million slush fund for far-left organizations,” the letter said.

“Along with ill-defined issuance metrics for grant programs, the sheer volume of money flowing through the EPA, prompts review of the agency’s ability to properly manage its rapidly inflated budget. The EPA’s total budgetary resources in FY2021 were approximately $17.2 billion, skyrocketing to $76.5 billion in FY2022. The agency must account for its ability to effectively prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of funding that has more than quadrupled within the span of a year.”

The Epoch Times contacted Regan for comment.

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