Federal agencies continue to roll out plans to address environmental justice issues, which has become a focal point in the Biden administration’s agenda. Now that the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) is in effect, federal agencies are now able to access more funds to address environmental justice concerns. As discussed in a prior blog post, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Equity Action Plan” in April 2022 and on September 30, 2022, the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) released its EJ Action Plan. This plan intends to advance the goals outlined in the EPA’s Equity Action Plan, specifically intending to address land cleanup issues in overburdened communities supported by OLEM’s programs. The EJ Action Plan will use federal funds, including funds allocated by the IRA, to reach benchmark goals for EPA’s land protection and cleanup programs as well as finance 36 potential projects, new agency tools and grant programs. Each of the 36 projects listed will be tracked and analyzed and OLEM plans to periodically provide status updates publicly. Among the list of goals, the EJ Action Plan intends to establish criteria to evaluate a project’s impact on environmental justice in order for a project to receive a grant funded by the IRA.
How does the EJ Action Plan tie to the IRA?
The IRA allocated over $20 billion in funds to develop programs, conduct research and provide grants in an effort to achieve environmental justice. OLEM will use funds allocated by the IRA to finance the equity grants included in the EJ Action Plan. OLEM also has access to IRA funds, in addition to the funds provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021, to initiate cleanup and clear the backlog of unfunded Superfund sites and other sites across the nation effecting overburdened communities.
Developing criteria for the grant programs established by the IRA is a major hurdle agencies will have to cross before grants can be extended. As agencies continue to develop and implement action plans focused on environmental justice, reporting on progress will be essential to track the IRA funds used for advancing environmental justice and evaluate how these grant programs are designed, implemented and monitored.