Biden funds largest community air pollution monitoring program in EPA history

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Studies show minority communities suffer disproportionately high negative effects from air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 3 announced $53.4 million in grants to fund 132 community air pollution monitoring projects in 37 states.

The EPA described the awards as the "largest investment for community air monitoring in EPA history." The projects will be funded through legislation enacted by President Joe Biden: $30 million from the Inflation Reduction Act, which he signed into law on Aug. 16 of this year, and $20 million from the American Rescue Plan, which he signed into law in 2021.

Both bills passed Congress with only Democratic votes and a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris

The EPA said the goal of the grants is to fund projects focused on enhancing air quality monitoring, especially for underserved and historically marginalized communities. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has found that air pollution can increase the risk of cancer, respiratory diseases, and heart disease, among other health threats.

Research released by the EPA in 2018 noted that communities with large minority populations are more likely to inhale polluted air and live near polluters. The study concluded that "results at national, state, and county scales all indicate that non-Whites tend to be burdened disproportionately to Whites."

"The air monitoring projects we are announcing today, which include the first EPA grants funded by President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, will ensure dozens of overburdened communities have the tools they need to better understand air quality challenges in their neighborhoods and will help protect people from the dangers posed by air pollution," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Regan, whose nomination by Biden was confirmed by the Senate in March 202, is the first Black man to serve as the head of the EPA.

The Center for Sustainable Communities, a nonprofit based in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the organizations to be financed by the new grants. It will receive close to $500,000 to place air quality monitors in minority communities in the region. The EPA said the center will partner with public schools to address potential health issues associated with proximity to high-traffic transportation corridors.

The Charleston Community Research to Action Board in Charleston, South Carolina, will receive almost half a million dollars to create an air monitoring network in eight communities, and $1.3 million will go to air monitoring projects in central and southern Florida.

The Biden administration's "Justice40" initiative, the mission of which is to support environmental justice, plans to direct 40% of federal investments relating to climate to historically disadvantaged communities. In September, the EPA announced the formation of the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, which will work across 10 regions nationwide to account for civil rights and environmental equity in forming agency policy.

The administration of former President Donald Trump had made numerousmoves to weaken environmental regulations and rules, prioritizing industry needs over concerns about the long-term effects of pollution on communities.

In 2019, the Trump administration threw out the Clean Power Plan, a set of federal rules put in place by the Obama administration and designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. 

While the Biden administration has worked to reinstitute many of the Obama-era rules, the conservative-led Supreme Court in June limited the power of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses.

After the court's ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, Biden released a statement describing it as "devastating," saying that it "aims to take our country backwards." He added, "I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.