EPA Ready to Dole Out ‘Environmental Justice’ Grants for Budding Activists

By Susan Jones | November 10, 2009 | 11:00 AM EST

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at the second Governors' Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is accepting grant applications for projects aimed at addressing environmental and public health issues in “communities with environmental justice concerns.”
The EPA said it expects to award approximately 40 grants of up to $25,000 each in Fiscal 2010. It will accept applications until January 8, 2010.
Local governments and non-profit organizations are eligible to apply. (Ineligible institutions include hospitals, colleges and universities, state governments, quasi-governmental entities, nonprofits that engage in lobbying, and national, multi-state, or statewide organizations with chapters.)
Emphasis on 'partnerships'

According to the EPA Web site, the Environmental Justice Grant Funding Program is intended to help communities “understand and address environmental challenges and create self-sustaining, community-based partnerships focused on improving human health and the environment.” 
In other words, it puts underprivileged people in touch with liberal activists and turns them into “agents of change.” (See project descriptions below.)
The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
The EPA notes that since 1994, it has funded projects involving exposure to toxins, farm worker pesticide protection, mercury in fish, indoor air quality, drinking water contamination, and pollution from shipping ports.
For Fiscal 2010, the EPA is encouraging applications that address what it calls the “disproportionate impacts of climate change.” It wants to fund projects that emphasize climate equity, energy efficiency, renewable energy, local green economy, and green-jobs capacity building.
“The goal is to recognize the critical role of grassroots efforts in helping to shape climate change strategies to avoid, lessen, or delay the risks and impacts associated with climate change,” the EPA Web site says. The EPA wants to “increase the number of underrepresented communities” in the climate change debate -- and “ensure equitable green economic development.”
Eligible applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have worked directly with, or provided services to, a community that is disproportionately impacted by environmental harms and risks. The grant proposal must identify “a local environmental and/or public health issue.”
Project descriptions
The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice established the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program in fiscal year 1994. Since then, EPA says it has provided more than $32 million in general funding to more than 1,100 community-based organizations.
Here are some recent examples:
In 2008-2009, grant money went to the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, a Barrow, Alaska, group that joined forces with environmental activists to challenge oil drilling in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.
The Inupiat project description reads: “Ensuring that local people have a voice in the decision making on oil and gas development projects in their village and the offshore area adjacent to it, upon which they depend. This will be achieved by identifying and documenting subsistence practices of local indigenous people, identifying the marine resources upon which they depend, and incorporating that information into the development planning process, at a stage early enough that the information can be effectively utilized to avoid detrimental impacts” (i.e., oil drilling).
Also in 2008-2009, environmental justice grant money went to a Southside Chicago neighborhood group to educate young African-Americans, ages 14-18, about environmental hazards. “The project will include classroom instruction, hands-on activities, and social activism training,” said the project description on the EPA’s Web site.
In 2007, grant money flowed to the Healthy Schools Campaign in Chicago to “educate and empower parents with the knowledge and skills needed to become ‘agents of change’ in improving the environmental quality of the community school. The parents will learn how to conduct and implement indoor air quality management programs at their schools to improve the indoor air quality of the schools.”
Also in 2007, the Madison (Wis.) Environmental Justice Organization obtained federal grant money to “work with minority and poor subsistence anglers to better understand fishing and fish consumption practices on Madison’s Northside to identify social, communication, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that affect fish consumption in these communities, (2) to reduce the consumption of the most contaminated fish, while still encouraging the consumption of less contaminated, self-caught fish as a healthy local food source; (3) to build collaborative and effective partnership among minority and poor anglers, neighborhood associations, community centers, non-profit organizations, university scientists, and governments agencies….”
The EPA Web site includes a statement from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson on its “commitment to environmental justice,” as follows:
We must take special pains to connect with those who have been historically underrepresented in EPA decision-making, including the disenfranchised in our cities and rural areas, communities of color, native Americans, people disproportionately impacted by pollution, and small businesses, cities, and towns working to meet their environmental responsibilities. Like all Americans, they deserve an EPA with an open mind, a big heart and a willingness to listen…As we meet these challenges, we must be sensitive to the burdens pollution has placed on vulnerable subpopulations, including children, the elderly, the poor and all others who are at particular risk to threats to health and the environment. We must seek their full partnership in the greater aim of identifying and eliminating the sources of pollution in their neighborhoods, schools and homes.