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Federal Infrastructure Policy and Funding Update: 2023 No. 2

This week we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and remember his legacy fighting for racial justice and compelling us toward a more just and equitable future. The work he started remains in progress as we continue to advance environmental justice and racial equity. As we saw in both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as well as the Inflation Reduction Act, combating years of disinvestment and disproportionate exposure to environmental harms takes bold action. To that end, below we discuss implementation of an IRA program that provides $100 million from the Environmental Protection Agency for Environmental Justice Grants; a Federal Transit Administration announcement of $20 million for projects in areas of persistent poverty or historically disadvantaged communities, and finally a recap of the national blueprint to decarbonize the transportation sector and help combat climate change and the risk it poses to vulnerable communities. Thanks for reading and please remember to subscribe.

EPA Announces $100 Million in Environmental Justice Grants

The EPA announced the availability of approximately $100 million for projects that advance environmental justice in underserved and overburdened communities across the country. The funding, authorized by the Inflation Reduction Act is administered through Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program and the Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) Program

The EJCPS provides financial assistance to eligible organizations (non-profit community based organization (CBO) or a partnership of CBOs) working to address local environmental or public health issues in their communities.The EPA anticipates awarding approximately $30 million of IRA funding through 83 cooperative agreements, organized in two tracks of funding.

  • $25 million for CBOs proposing projects for up to $500,000 each (approximately 50 awards for up to $500,000)
  • $5 million for qualifying small CBOs with 5 or fewer full-time employees proposing projects for up to $150,000 each (Approximately 33 awards for up to $150,000)

Funding requests under the EJCPS must address one of the following five categories: 

  • Community-led air and other pollution monitoring, prevention, and remediation, and investments in low- and zero-emission and resilient technologies and related infrastructure and workforce development that help reduce greenhouse gas emission and other air pollutants.
  • Mitigating climate and health risks from urban heat islands, extreme heat, wood heater emissions, and wildfire events
  • Climate resiliency and adaptation
  • Reducing indoor toxics and indoor air pollution; or
  • Facilitating engagement of marginalized communities in Local, State, and Federal public processes, such as advisory groups, workshops and rulemakings.

Applicants must respond to the EJCPS Request for Applications on or before April 10, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

The EJG2G Program provides funding at the state, local, territorial, and tribal level to support government activities that lead to measurable environmental or public health impacts in communities disproportionally burdened by environmental harms. The goals of the EJG2G Program are to: 

  1. Achieve measurable and meaningful environmental and/or public health results in communities; 
  2. Build broad and robust, results oriented partnerships, particularly with CBOs within disproportionately impacted areas; 
  3. Pilot activities in specific communities that create transferable models, which can be expanded or replicated in other geographic areas; and 
  4. Strengthen the development and implementation of meaningful approaches to achieve environmental justice. 

The EPA is soliciting applications for projects that transform overburdened and underserved communities into healthy, thriving communities capable of addressing the environmental and public health challenges they have historically faced, as well as current and future challenges. Eligible entities include partnerships between tribes, states, or local governments and CBOs. 

The EPA expects to award approximately $70 million through 70 cooperative agreements nationwide organized as follows: 

  • $20 million for states partnering with CBOs proposing projects for up to $1 million each
  • $20 million for tribal governments partnering with CBOs proposing projects for up to $1 million each
  • $20 million for local governments partnering with CBOs proposing projects for up to $1 million (each)
  • $10 million for U.S. Territories, Puerto Rico and tribes in remote areas proposing projects for up to $1 million each

The EJG2G program requires that applications align with the same five categories detailed for the EJCPS, the EJG2G program requires that applications align with the same five categories and also requires applications to be submitted on or before April 10, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. The Request for Applications is available.

FTA Announces Funding Opportunity for the Areas of Persistent Poverty Program 

The FTA published a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Areas of Persistent Poverty Program, making just over $20 million available for planning, engineering, or the development of technical or financing plans for projects to assist Areas of Persistent Poverty or Historically Disadvantaged Communities. An eligible project under the NOFO is defined as a planning study (including a planning and environmental linkages study that advances the environmental analysis and review process as part of the metropolitan planning process), and engineering study, a technical study or a financing plan. 

Eligible applicants include entities that are eligible recipients or subrecipients under 49 U.S.C. 5307, 5310, or 5311 located in Areas of Persistent Poverty or Historically Disadvantaged Communities. 

An Area of Persistent Poverty is defined as: 

  1. Any county (or equivalent jurisdiction) in which during the 30-year period ending November 15, 2021, 20% or more of the population continually lived in poverty, as measured by the 1990 decennial census, the 2000 decennial census, and the most recent annual small area income and poverty estimate of the Bureau of the Census 
  2. Any census tract with a poverty rate of not less than 20%, as measured by the 5-year data series available from the American Community Survey of the Bureau of the Census for the period of 2014 through 2018; and 
  3. Any territory or possession of the United States. 

Historically Disadvantaged Communities include: 

  • Certain qualifying census tracts 
  • Any tribal land 
  • Any territory or possession of the U.S. 

The FTA provides a mapping tool to assist applicants in identifying whether a project is located in an Area of Persistent Poverty or an Historically Disadvantaged Community. 

Applications for the program must be submitted on or before 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on March 10, 2023. 

Federal Agencies Release National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization 

The Departments of Energy, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency released the U.S. National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization. The Blueprint is a strategy for federal leadership and partnerships to decarbonize the entire U.S. transportation sector and is built on five guiding principles: 

  • Implement bold actions to achieve measurable results
  • Embrace creative solutions across the transportation system
  • Ensure safety, equity, and access
  • Increase collaboration
  • Establish U.S. Leadership

The Blueprint provides a comprehensive, system-level perspective of the entire transportation system across all passenger and fright travel modes and fuels and lays out three key strategies to achieve decarbonization: 

Increase convenience by supporting community design and land-use planning at the local and regional levels that ensure that job centers, shopping, schools, entertainment, and essential services are strategically located near where people live to reduce commute burdens, improve walkability and bikeability, and improve quality of life. 

Improve efficiency by expanding affordable, accessible, efficient, and reliable options like public transportation and rail, and improving the efficiency of all vehicles. 

Transition to clean options by deploying zero-emission vehicles and fuels for cars, commercial trucks, transit, boats, airplanes and more. 

If all of this seems vaguely familiar, its because these same approaches were elemental to the old Partnership for Sustainable Communities which involved the same agencies with the Department of Agriculture filling in for the Department of Energy in that interagency working group. The nexus between good planning of commercial and residential development that provides affordable options and encourages more active transportation has long been a focus of progressive transportation policy makers. In my prior life, I staffed the Partnership and saw progress as the agencies sought to align their activities towards a common goal — but alas bureaucracy and ultimately elections took their toll and that work slowed considerably. It is encouraging to see this renewed interest and perhaps, with the financial support of the IIJA and IRA, there may be enough lasting momentum to help make this stick. 

For more information on the Blueprint, you can review the press release and the Fact Sheet.

Strategies for Developing Five-year Action Plans for Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program

This is a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about as we continue to connect with statewide clients who are exploring the opportunities to deploy broadband to the unserved and underserved within their states. Broadband Deployment, Planning, Design and Implementation Expertise

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