|President Biden, flanked by EPA chief Michael Regan (far left) and environmental justice leaders, signs an executive order on environmental justice in April. Photo: @EPAMichaelRegan via Twitter.
TipSheet: Funding Initiative May Help Surface Overlooked Environmental Justice Stories
By Joseph A. Davis
Injustice has been part of U.S. environmental history — and environmental news — since the early days of the beat. Finding environmental injustice, understanding it and explaining are all key parts of the environmental journalist’s job. Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is starting an initiative that may help.
The agency recently selected a network of 17 technical centers to help community groups apply for some of the billions of dollars now available under the Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, and other funding sources.
The EPA will also provide some $177 million in funding for the centers in order to help a much wider network of (often) small community organizations find their way through the bureaucratic maze involved in applying for grants and managing them. (Although the agency didn’t entirely escape bureaucratese in naming them Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers, or EJ TCTACs.)
The IRA alone could ultimately provide as much as $60 billion in grants or other funding to local and regional environmental justice groups. The Energy Department will also be involved in disbursing the funds.
So if you track the network and plug into the parts relevant to you and your audience, you may find your way to dozens of overlooked environmental justice stories.
Why it matters
We shouldn’t have to say it, but environmental justice matters because vulnerable people who may lack political power are being harmed by pollution and hazards from which government agencies should be protecting them.
It’s a currently fashionable topic, but environmental justice is a movement that began … well, almost as long ago as the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showed the way when he went to Memphis in 1968 to support the sanitation workers’ strike. He was assassinated there.
Certainly, the movement had taken a more definite shape by the time of the 1982 protest against PCBs (may require subscription) in a landfill in Warren County, North Carolina.
But as political parties have won and lost power over subsequent decades, the environmental justice movement suffered from neglect and sidelining. The Biden administration is trying to mainstream it (may require subscription).
ID’ing the centers
The technical assistance centers are mostly regional in scope, with a few that are national (see the full list below). One way to get to what’s in your region or area is with this map.
Importantly, you should know that each center has a lot of regional partners — usually more than a dozen, and often more local partners.
Here’s a list of all of the technical centers. Sorry, but you’ll have to dig out web addresses and phone contacts yourselves.
- University of Connecticut
- West Harlem Environmental Action
- Inter-American University of Puerto Rico – Metropolitan Campus
- National Wildlife Federation
- Research Triangle Institute
- Blacks in Green
- University of Minnesota
- Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
- New Mexico State University
- Wichita State University
- University of Arizona
- San Diego State University
- Willamette Partnership
- University of Washington
- International City/County Management Association
- Institute for Sustainable Communities
- National Indian Health Board
- EPA: The EPA under Administrator Michael S. Regan has a vast trove of environmental justice resources to help.
- Energy Department: The DOE has for decades been trying to clean up the mess left by the U.S. nuclear program beginning in WWII. Toxic legacies include waste from uranium mining that even today harms tribal nations.
- National Environmental Justice Advisory Council: The NEJAC has existed for years, with ups and downs. You could learn a lot by attending one of its meetings (even virtually) or interviewing one of its members.
- White House Council on Environmental Quality: The CEQ is important because it reaches across most federal agencies. Within it is the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
- WE ACT for Environmental Justice: WE ACT is a national environmental justice organizing and advocacy organization, nonprofit and nongovernmental, based in New York.
[Editor's Note: For more on environmental justice reporting, see our Topics on the Beat page, which includes a wide range of SEJournal stories and a special report, as well as environmental justice headlines from EJToday.]
Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet, Reporter's Toolbox and Issue Backgrounder, and curates SEJ's weekday news headlines service EJToday and @EJTodayNews. Davis also directs SEJ's Freedom of Information Project and writes the WatchDog opinion column.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 8, No. 18. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.