Fall 2023

Federal Funding of Environmental Justice Initiatives

By Matthew J. Mayo, M.S., GISP, CPG, P.G.

Though environmental justice has been tracked for many years, recent increases in federal funding for environmental justice programs has created new activity around the issue.

The concept of environmental justice (EJ) arose with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and began to gather national attention through the 1980s and 1990s.  In 1992, the Bush Administration established the Environmental Equity Work Group to facilitate meetings on EJ between the federal government and community leaders, and in 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, directing federal agencies to make EJ a part of the federal decision-making process (US DOE, undated).  Starting in 2021 with the Biden-Harris Administration’s Executive Order (EO14008) creating the Justice40 Initiative (Justice40), the United States (US) federal government has “made it a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution” (Biden, 2023).  As of April 2023, 16 federal agencies (e.g., US Environmental Protection Agency [US EPA], US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Energy [US DOE], US Department of the Interior, US Army Corps of Engineers) and a handful of small independent agencies (e.g., Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority) have transformed over 450 federal programs to meet the goals of Justice40 by ensuring “disadvantaged communities receive the benefits of new and existing Federal investments” through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Build Back Better Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the American Rescue Plan (Biden, 2023).  The rollout of Justice40 and its significant influx of funding has provided new opportunities for agencies, interest groups, and communities to perform studies, receive education or training, and monitor compliance in areas where there are actual or perceived EJ issues.  For instance, in May 2022, the White House announced that “over $29 billion in funding opportunities [had] already incorporated Justice40 considerations” (Biden, 2022).

The rollout of Justice40 and its significant influx of funding has provided new opportunities for agencies, interest groups, and communities to perform studies, receive education or training, and monitor compliance in areas where there are actual or perceived EJ issues.”

Moreover, in August 2022, the US EPA Environmental and Climate Justice (ECJ) Program was created by the IRA under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to provide $3 billion in “funding for financial and technical assistance to carry out environmental and climate justice activities to benefit underserved and overburdened communities” (US EPA, 2023a).  The objective of the ECJ Program is to help communities “confront and overcome persistent pollution challenges” and “advance environmental justice and support projects like community-led air pollution monitoring, prevention and remediation” (US EPA, 2023b).  According to USASpending.gov, several projects have been recently funded under the ECJ Program.  For example, a grant was allocated to a non-profit organization to conduct ambient air monitoring of pollutants in communities with environmental and health outcome disparities.  The project involved deploying more than 80 low-cost particulate matter (PM) sensors in EJ communities across five states, analyzing the data, and making results publicly available.  In addition to this project, other organizations have received funding under the ECJ Program to replace, update, and/or augment statewide air-monitoring equipment or expand existing air-monitoring programs.

Along with the ECJ Program, the US EPA has identified over 70 other programs to be covered under Justice40, including the Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program, which anticipates awarding approximately $30 million to community organizations to address local environmental or public health issues (US EPA, 2023c).  Additionally, the Environmental Justice Government-to-Government (EJG2G) program plans to award approximately $70 million in funding at the “state, local, territorial, and tribal level to support government activities that lead to measurable environmental or public health impacts in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms” (US EPA, 2023d).

According to USASpending.gov, since 2008, nearly 20 different agencies across the federal government have provided funding for projects with an EJ component.”

According to USASpending.gov, since 2008, nearly 20 different agencies across the federal government have provided funding for projects with an EJ component.  In 2022, US EPA in particular funded hundreds of projects through several different EJ programs, such as the ECJ Program, the EJCPS Cooperative Agreement Program, and its EJ Small Grants Program (see Figure) (USASpending.gov, 2023).  These EJ projects were awarded funds ranging from $50,000 to over $1 million to perform a variety of activities, including:

  • Maintenance and expansion of a statewide air quality monitoring network to collect PM and ozone data;
  • Installation of a citywide network of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) monitors to provide real-time data to evaluate the frequency, intensity, and location of high PM2.5 events due to industrial emissions;
  • Development of statewide tools to incorporate EJ and climate change initiatives into the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA);
  • Assistance with developing operating permits and performing compliance monitoring to reduce criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Support for compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, CAA, and RCRA; and
  • Development and implementation of training, education, and/or community outreach programs related to human health and the environment (e.g., air quality, water quality, exposure risk).

Examples of US EPA-Funded Environmental Justice (EJ) Projects in 2022

Map of US with blue squares indicating sites of EJ projects funded by US EPA in 2022

Click to Enlarge Figure.

Overall, EO14008 and Justice40 have dramatically increased the availability of federal funding for projects with EJ components and have led to an increased awareness of EJ issues, from local grassroots organizations to federal agencies.  Yet, there are still important questions to be answered, such as:

  • Will the billions of dollars being invested to promote EJ initiatives lead to more positive outcomes?
  • How will agencies evaluate the performance of EJ projects to ensure that investments are being distributed prudently and are providing meaningful benefits to underserved communities?
  • What will federal spending on EJ issues look like in the future under different administrations?
Contact Info

The author can be reached at mmayo@gradientcorp.com.


Biden, JR Jr. [US President]. 2022. “Fact Sheet: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Holds Justice40 Week of Action to Highlight Historic Investments in Overburdened and Underserved Communities.” May 23. Accessed on July 19, 2023, at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/23/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-holds-justice40-week-of-action-to-highlight-historic-investments-in-overburdened-and-underserved-communities/.

Biden, JR Jr. [US President]. 2023. “Justice40: A Whole-of-Government Initiative.” Accessed on July 18, 2023, at https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/justice40/.

USASpending.gov. 2023. “Government spending open data website.” Accessed on July 18, 2023, at https://www.usaspending.gov/.

US Dept. of Energy (US DOE), Office of Legacy Management. 2023. “Environmental Justice History.” Accessed on September 13, 2023, at https://www.energy.gov/lm/environmental-justice-history.

US EPA. 2023a. “Inflation Reduction Act Environmental and Climate Justice Program.” July 13. Accessed on July 18, 2023, at https://www.epa.gov/inflation-reduction-act/inflation-reduction-act-environmental-and-climate-justice-program.

US EPA. 2023b. “Advancing Environmental Justice.” July 19. Accessed on July 19, 2023, at https://www.epa.gov/inflation-reduction-act/advancing-environmental-justice.

US EPA. 2023c. “The Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program.” February 21. Accessed on July 18, 2023, at https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/environmental-justice-collaborative-problem-solving-cooperative-agreement-5.

US EPA. 2023d. “The Environmental Justice Government-to-Government Program.” March 22. Accessed on July 18, 2023, at https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/environmental-justice-government-government-program.