From Bed Bugs to Micmacs: EPA Offers New Round of 'Environmental Justice' Grants

By Susan Jones | October 16, 2012 | 6:50 AM EDT

(AP Photo)

( - Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to the public trough: The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking applicants who want a piece of the $1.5 million set aside for "environmental justice" grants to be awarded in 2013.

The taxpayer money goes to non-profit and tribal groups that address health and environmental issues in minority, low-income, and indigenous communities. These places are "overburdened by harmful pollution," as the EPA phrases it.

Applicants must be incorporated non-profits or tribal organizations that are working to "educate, empower and enable" their communities to understand and address local environmental and public health issues.

Previous grants have supported projects that seek to improve -- or raise awareness of -- air and water quality, lead contamination, energy efficiency, even healthy food.

In 2011, for example, the Aroostock Band of Micmacs in Presque Isle, Maine, received money for a project establishing "a sustainable approach for disseminating air quality information" to communities susceptible to air pollution.

Some of the other projects funded in 2011 (the latest year for which grant information is available) included:

-- A Cleveland tenants' organization received a grant to "address the prevention and treatment of area bed bug infestations."

-- A Houston group received a grant to capture images of "environmental risks" in Houston. According to the project description, high school students were sent out to photograph local environmental risks. They then shared their photos -- to "spark conversation about the impact of environmental injustices on health and quality of life."

-- A nonprofit in Hollywood, Fla., received a grant to examine "environmental threats posed by the industrial food system." The project sought to "empower and engage underserved teens from low-income neighborhoods as environmental and 'food justice' advocates." The program identified urban food deserts and encouraged residents to advocate for and utilize farmers markets and community gardens.

-- An Austin, Texas nonprofit received money to "conduct surveys and studies relating to the causes and prevention of air pollution, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and the pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity."

-- A Washington, D.C., nonprofit received a grant to promote energy-efficiency in houses of worship. The project sought to "educate affected communities about the role of energy efficiency in saving money."

“Environmental justice grants support efforts to raise awareness about local health and environmental concerns,” said Lisa Garcia, EPA’s senior adviser to the administrator for environmental justice, in announcing the 2013 grant solicitations on Monday.

“By supporting local projects in under-served communities, communities are able to develop plans and partnerships that will continue to improve their local environment and better protect human health into the future.”

Successful applicants in 2013 will receive a maximum of $30,000 each.  

The EPA said it will conduct four pre-application teleconference calls in coming months, to help applicants understand the requirements for getting the grants.

The Obama administration's EPA says the burdens of pollution fall disproportionately on poor and minority communities, and its environmental justice campaign seeks to give those communities the "same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the decision-making process and a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work."

Since its inception in 1994, the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program has awarded more than $23 million in taxpayer funding to 1,253 community-based organizations, and local and tribal organizations to address environmental justice issues.

As previously reported, the EPA announced two years ago that “achieving environmental justice is an Agency priority and should be factored into every decision.”