On December 20, 2023, the USEPA announced the selection of 11 Grantmakers to fund environmental justice (EJ) programs across the United States. The Grantmakers received $600 million under the USEPA’s Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking program. The goal of the new grant program is to allow easier access to federal EJ funds from community-based organizations. Example environmental projects that could be funded by these grants include “small local clean ups, local emergency preparedness and disaster resiliency programs, environmental workforce development programs for local jobs reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fence line air quality, asthma related projects, healthy homes programs, and projects addressing illegal dumping.”
The program plans to issue thousands of EJ subgrants to local communities over the next three years. The application process is still underway; subgrants are expected to become available by the summer of 2024.
The eleven selected Grantmakers are:
- Health Resources in Action, Massachusetts
- Fordham University, New York
- Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Inc., Maryland
- Research Triangle Institute, North Carolina
- The Minneapolis Foundation, Minnesota
- Texas Southern University, Texas
- JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc., Colorado
- Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, Inc., California
- Philanthropy Northwest, Washington
- Institute for Sustainable Communities, Vermont
- Climate Justice Alliance, California
Given the changing regulatory requirements and recent funding, environmental justice and community engagement are an increasing focus for USEPA and state agencies. Awareness of the changes that are being driven by Environmental Justice requirements can provide the opportunity to turn potential risks into opportunities for companies and the communities where they operate.
A key element of a successful Environmental Justice plan includes effective risk communication.
- How Does the Community Perceive your Company? Community engagement starts with understanding how a company is perceived in the region in which it operates. This includes perceptions on company operations and community activities. Gauging residents’ perceptions of company communications and actions on environmental efforts and safety are a key starting point for understanding community perceptions.
- What Do You Know About the Community?Understanding the community where you operate – its history, demographic composition, main employers, local economics, schools, languages that are spoken, annual events, local media in the area and what active social channels residents follow is critical to understanding how to communicate to effectively.
- Conduct Stakeholder Mapping.Identify elected officials and civic and community leaders and engage them to learn about priorities in the community.
- Leverage the insights of your own people.Recognize that your internal stakeholders (engineers, lawyers, plant managers, or regulatory and legislative affairs employees) will know the history of operations and likely have different points of view that will factor into a broader successful engagement strategy. Knowing these facts help inform a narrative and anticipate questions.
- Commit to the long-term.Transparency and trust take time to build and are even more difficult if a community is frustrated or angry about real or perceived potential health or economic impacts from historic or current operations.
- Open the lines of communication.While you may not like or agree with what you initially hear, knowing there is someone listening begins to build the trust and empathy needed to form a positive relationship with the community and further its progress.
- Ensure alignment with your broader business strategy.Assess how potential points of engagement align with your corporate strategy and values. Ensure your approach is authentic. Do these areas align with your company’s commitment and or signature programs (e.g., STEM education, diversity and inclusion initiatives, or job training)?
- Engage third-party allies. Explore opportunities to partner with and engage key groups or community organizations. From industry trade associations to community non-profit groups, these organizations can help a company tell its story, build a strong reputation, and give credit for the work they do to support the community and its residents.
EHS Support is here to help. Suggested steps to evaluate your company’s risk include:
- Screening all sites using federal and state mapping tools, such as EJScreen
- Flagging locations that are in underserved communities
- Searching your site USEPA’s Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO) or state-specific enforcement search for insight to how your site’s compliance history is reported and could be perceived by the public
- Reviewing compliance performance at high-risk facilities
To discuss your Environmental Justice concerns or how to best evaluate operational risks associated with Environmental Justice, please reach out to Liz Hoerning, Beth Hesse, or Bruce Martin.
Supporting copy for sharing:
Under the USEPA’s Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking program, 11 Grantmakers received $600 million. The goal is to allow easier access to federal EJ funds from community-based organizations. Today’s client alert takes a closer look at the details.