Environmental justice funding gains momentum in Chesapeake Bay region



Environmental justice funding gains momentum in Chesapeake Bay region

Annapolis, Maryland – Tripod-mounted weather stations resembling whimsical space probes have been popping up near homes, churchyards, gardens and vacant lots in the Baltimore area since spring.

They are the mechanical scouts in an ambitious $25 million research project led by Johns Hopkins University to study the effects of climate change in urban environments and find ways to mitigate them.

The effort, called the Baltimore Social and Environmental Collaborative, brings together more than 70 scientists, engineers and other experts from seven universities and two national laboratories. It also includes a strong group of city officials and neighborhood leaders who will help guide this effort.

In announcing funding for the project, U.S. Department of Energy Director of Science Asmeret Asefaw Bahhe said the research will help fill a major gap in the scientific understanding of urban climate systems. “They also help leverage this knowledge in ways that empower historically underserved and disadvantaged communities in urban settings,” she said.

Three years after George Floyd’s killing sparked a spotlight on racial justice and equity, federal funding is being channeled to projects in the Chesapeake Bay region and beyond that aim to correct long-standing environmental injustices. began to pour in one after another.

In addition to research in the Baltimore region, this project includes helping industries reduce pollution in disadvantaged communities in West Virginia, establishing an environmental justice fund in the Mid-Atlantic Coast, and supporting underserved communities. This includes supporting local utilities.

” [impact] “The environmental community is beginning to understand the kinds of injustices that have occurred in our communities,” said Carmela Thomas Willhite, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Ta. “We see a lot of federal funding going toward that right now.”

Supporters say the effort was strengthened by a series of pandemic-era funding packages, including the $1 trillion infrastructure law passed in 2021. They also point to the Biden administration’s Justice 40 program, which aims to direct 40% of funding from certain federal sources. Environmental investments in historically disadvantaged communities.

Thomas Wilhite said a temporary infusion of federal money would help get the project back on track. But it will be even more important for local organizations to grow their workforce and obtain sustainable funding to continue their work for years to come.

The Biden administration’s broad definition of environmental justice has drawn criticism from some groups because it applies a “race-neutral” standard to tackling inequality. While this strategy may help prevent the Supreme Court’s conservative majority from striking down the strategy, critics argue that it could lead to poor health and environmental outcomes between communities of color and white neighborhoods. They are concerned that this will hinder efforts to close the gap.

Environmental justice funding gains momentum in Chesapeake Bay region
Weather stations in East Baltimore monitor temperature, precipitation, humidity and sunlight. Equipment to measure soil moisture is being installed by Morgan State University.Timothy B. Wheeler

As a result, some of the programs Justice 40 supports in the Chesapeake Bay region have less obvious connections to race.

While the spending is unprecedented, advocates say it pales in comparison to the scale of environmental injustice in the region. But it’s a promising start.

“These federal funds are temporary, but catalytic,” said Casey Wetzel, vice president of outreach for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which funds from the sale of Bay-themed license plates in Maryland and other sources. There is a possibility that it will happen.” “This is a level of investment we have never seen before to right long-standing wrongs.”

Researchers and residents collaborate

Each recent federal initiative seeks to partner with community members to shape its design and provide direct funding.

As its name suggests, the Baltimore Social and Environmental Collaboration Project aims to engage a wide range of community participants in deciding what to include in the five-year study.

Ben Zaichik, a scientist at Hopkins University who helped secure the federal grant, calls the team’s approach “knowledge cogeneration.” Researchers will work with neighborhood leaders, city officials, and nongovernmental organizations to figure out: “Based on the solutions we see for ourselves, what science do we need?” he said. and build the science to respond to it. ”

The project involved researchers from Hopkins University, Morgan State University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Drexel University, as well as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Among them are city officials and leaders from Old Goucher and Broadway East, two of the Baltimore neighborhoods targeted by the investigation.

Research is organized into climate-related themes divided into four main categories: heat waves, air pollution (indoor and outdoor), urban flooding, and decarbonization.

There is also an ‘Equitable Pathways’ Steering Committee, whose mandate is to provide feedback on whether research is structured to benefit communities, including those most disadvantaged and at risk. .

To that end, community leaders “tell us what they think we should learn,” Zaychik said. They also tell researchers “who else needs to be in the room” to widen the scope of participation in the project. For example, those researching decarbonization focus on “how to reduce greenhouse gases.” [reduction] We need to achieve our goals in a way that is both achievable and fair,” he explained.

The project held a kickoff meeting in January, followed by a fall session at Morgan State University to explore heatwave issues. But the fieldwork is “just beginning,” Zaychik said.

Approximately 20 weather observatories have been set up in and around the city so far, collecting data on temperature, precipitation, humidity, sunlight, etc. These stations are based on summer air measurements collected by Hopkins University for nearly a decade to assess Baltimore’s urban heat island effect, as well as data on regional flows that UMBC researchers have monitored for years. It complements the

The goal is to bring together all research threads to identify ways to address climate change and consider the tradeoffs that may be involved in pursuing different combinations.

“We may not get there in five years on all these themes. We’re confident we won’t,” Zaychik said. But he said it was important to quickly demonstrate the value of collaborative research, given the urgency of the climate crisis, which requires both mitigation and adaptation at the same time.

“So, as the saying goes, ‘If you want to move fast, go alone.’ If you want to go far, go together,” he added. “We have to work together quickly. To do that, we need a process that involves people and a system that people can trust.”

Subsidy right

Another new federally funded program aims to take cooperation a step further. The goal under the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Justice Fund is to “shift power and philanthropy to those most affected by environmental injustice,” said the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which administers the program. Wetzel said.

The trust, in partnership with nine other organizations, administers $17 million in federal grants to communities and community-based organizations that have historically faced constraints in competing for funding to address environmental issues. The program uses a participatory grant-making process in which affected community members have the power to decide who and what is funded.

“People on the outside aren’t necessarily able to do it in the same way as people who are facing these challenges,” Wetzel said.

In addition to awarding grants to under-resourced groups, program partners provide outreach and technical assistance. Supporters argue that doing so would allow them to receive more funding and more effectively address disparities in environmental and public health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service awarded this grant through its Urban and Community Forestry Program. This funding comes from the Inflation Control Act of 2022.

Among the trust’s partners in this initiative are Sacoby Wilson, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Atlantic Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health and co-director of the Center for Prosperous Communities Technical Assistance; . National Wildlife Federation. Howard University; Center for Environmental Finance. A network of local environmental justice leaders.

“Environmental justice can only be achieved when power, resources and decision-making are vested in the communities most affected by environmental harm and related health inequalities,” Wilson said in a written statement. We will be able to achieve this.”

infrastructure support

Moonshot Missions, a nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, Maryland, is receiving funding to promote water equity and access for “all,” as stated in an EPA press release. The EPA is giving the organization her $7.5 million over five years, and the organization also serves as one of the few national environmental finance centers that helps connect communities with federal and state funding.

George Hawkins launched Moonshot Mission in 2018 after serving as DC Water’s general manager for eight years and seeing firsthand the challenges water utilities face in maintaining aging infrastructure. . He is recognized for helping transform the utility company through innovative approaches to improving stormwater and wastewater.

Utilities that are severely under-resourced often do not have the personnel resources to plan and seek grants for large-scale capital projects or the financial capacity to carry out the projects on their own.

Water utility managers in Dorchester County, Maryland, were assisted in resolving issues with aging wastewater infiltration ponds. (Provided by MD, Ministry of the Environment)

“They’re basically running a fire department and sending people out to fix broken systems,” Hawkins said.

Often, small utilities may not know about proven innovations that address issues like energy costs and combined sewer flooding.

Moonshot Mission helps small or under-resourced utilities plan and fund projects to operate more efficiently. The $7.5 million the nonprofit will receive from the EPA will be used to help local governments rethink expensive infrastructure problems that they might not be able to address otherwise.

Although the EPA funding infusion is just beginning, Moonshot is already working across the country with the help of private foundations and grants.

The Campbell Foundation has funded much of its previous work in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including recent projects in Dorchester County, which has the third highest poverty rate in Maryland. Hawkins said the work in Dorchester is a prime example of the kind of projects he hopes to continue in the region and beyond.

In this case, the Maryland Department of the Environment asked Moonshot to help replace an aging wastewater infiltration pond surrounded by earthworks in a county sanitary district. These are threatened by rising sea levels, and the technology they relied on is no longer considered best practice.

Moonshot consultants found that a better approach was to send the wastewater to a larger system for treatment. They helped the utility develop an intended use plan and apply to the Maryland Revolving Fund to pay for the additional infrastructure needed.

“It’s a very complex process to access these funds. There’s research and work-up, so it’s primarily a bigger utility game. [required] Apply to the program,” Hawkins said.

Overall, the flow of funding to environmental justice-related causes shows no signs of slowing down. In late October, the EPA announced spending $2.3 million on five projects in Virginia and $3.2 million on five projects in Maryland. Initiatives include:

  • $980,000 to fight air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by building energy upgrades in underserved communities in Arlington, Virginia.
  • $460,000 to build partnerships with 10 community-based organizations in the Charlottesville, Virginia area to develop climate adaptation plans.
  • Donated $370,000 to Ridge to Reefs to address the effects of air and water pollution from the Choke Point Power Plant in Eagle Harbor, Maryland.

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