Communities of color have historically been among the most affected by unfavorable environmental policies, and poor air pollution is just one impact, EPA administrator Michael Regan said in an interview with CNN.
“Communities of color and environmental justice communities have been impacted by a number of systemic policy decisions that have been made, whether it be transportation, looking at roads and highways that cut through the heart of many of these communities, whether you look at failed drinking water systems … or whether you look at facilities that spew pollution in closer proximity than other communities,” Regan said.
The EPA plans to direct funding to air quality-monitoring agencies to watch for particles that have been linked to harmful illness in these communities.
“These resources will go to air quality monitoring in communities that need it the most,” Regan said, “so that we can ensure as an agency that we are adequately protecting all communities.”
“Our communities of color and low-income communities have been disproportionately impacted for generations and COVID-19 exacerbated the health disparities that we have seen or been seen in these communities,” Regan explained. “If we can properly monitor the air quality in these communities, we begin to alleviate many of the stressors that put these communities at an uncompetitive advantage when the pandemic first hit.”
In its announcement Wednesday, EPA said it will launch a grant competition calling for proposals on the monitoring of pollutants that are found in communities with health outcome disparities. The competition, which is planned for later this year, is aimed at strengthening communities’ abilities to monitor their own air quality, as well as facilitating collaboration between those communities and state, local and Tribal partners, the agency says.
Although he did not give a timeline for when the funds would be disbursed, Regan stressed the urgency and said the agency is putting the framework in place to get the resources out as quickly as possible.
The EPA administrator also said the agency would be relying on experts in its environmental justice office as well as relying on existing partnerships with community organizations to ensure that the money goes to the communities that need it the most.
“We’re laser-focused on how we can get these precious resources to those who need it the most,” Regan said. “And I’m confident that we have the staff expertise, we have the existing relationships, and we’re going to leverage our state and tribal partnerships to get the job done.”
The issue of air quality is also personal for Regan, who struggled with asthma during his childhood in eastern North Carolina.
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