Where Your Tax Money Goes: EPA Awards $800,000 in ‘Environmental Justice’ Grants

By Susan Jones | March 27, 2009 | 6:51 AM EDT

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson talks with The Associated Press in her office at EPA headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

(CNSNews.com) – Communities in 28 states will receive $800,000 to address “environmental justice challenges,” the Environmental Protection Agency announced this week.
Forty grants of up to $20,000 each are going to community-based organizations and to local and tribal governments for community projects addressing environmental and public health issues.
One of the grant recipients is the Women's Environmental Institute at Amador Hill in North Branch, Minn., which describes itself as a “retreat center” where people can “renew, learn and organize for environmental justice.”
The institute deals with environmental issues and policies relevant to women and children as well as communities “especially affected by environmental injustices.” The institute says it promotes “agricultural justice, organic and sustainable agriculture and ecological awareness.” It also supports “activism that influences public policy and promotes social change.”
The Women’s Environmental Institute plans to use its $20,000 grant for outreach and education on toxic pollutants and asthma intervention in Minneapolis neighborhoods. “Soil and food basket samples will be collected and sent for analysis and results will be shared with the communities,” the EPA said in a news release.
“These grants mark the beginning of a full-scale revitalization of what we do and how we think about environmental justice,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Environmental justice is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins. It has to be part of our thinking in every decision we make.”
According to the EPA, the 40 grant recipients will use the money to create “healthy, sustainable communities” through dozens of local projects that reflect Jackson’s five priorities: improving air quality, managing chemical risks, cleaning up hazardous-waste disposal sites, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting America’s water.
The EPA said the projects will address a variety of issues including:
-- educating youth about the harmful effects of toxic substances such as asbestos and lead paint in Chicago;
-- educating Albuquerque, N.M. residents and businesses on ways to properly dispose of hazardous waste;
-- conducting residential energy efficiency workshops and training in Kansas City, Mo. for Spanish-speaking communities;
-- identifying air pollutants from truck emissions and other sources at Port Newark in New Brunswick, N.J.;
-- and ensuring that citizens of Barrow, Alaska, have a voice in the decision making on local oil and gas development projects.
In the 15 years since initiating the environmental justice small grants program, the EPA says it has awarded more than $20 million in funding to assist 1,130 community-based organizations and local and tribal governments.
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 the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
EPA said its goal will be achieved “when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process…”
The EPA created the Office of Environmental Justice in 1992, in response to concerns from the Congressional Black Caucus that environmental risk is higher in racial minority and low-income populations. For example, poor people are more likely to live in homes with peeling lead-based paint and live in neighborhoods near polluted areas.
In February 1994, then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health conditions of minority and low-income populations.
The EPA says it offers “environmental justice guidance” and training for all staff. Specifically, it educates its officials to recognize that populations suffering the most from environmental pollution are often excluded from the decision- and policy-making process.

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