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The agency is controlling billions in infrastructure funding for water and sewer projects and brownfields cleanup.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told county officials Tuesday that the Biden administration is committed to getting a fair share of money from the new infrastructure law to communities that have been left out of previous rounds of federal funding for waterworks and contaminated site cleanups.
Regan, speaking at a National Association of Counties gathering in Washington, said the EPA is expanding technical assistance to help communities vying for a share of $1.5 billion in brownfields funding, as those places devise plans for cleaning up polluted and otherwise blighted areas. These dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act come on top of money normally available through the brownfields program.
Regan said that as EPA manages the additional funding it will be, “specifically targeting communities that have not benefited from the EPA’s brownfields program in the past.”
He also said the program has the potential to revitalize communities and has “proven time and time again that environmental protection and economic development, they are not mutually exclusive. They actually go hand in hand.”
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to turn brownfields sites all across this nation into economic engines,” Regan added.
In addition, Regan said nearly half of the $7.4 billion in water infrastructure funds the EPA will release to state revolving funds this year will be in the form of grants or fully forgivable loans. That, he said, will remove barriers from low-income communities to be able to afford to improve the quality of their water systems.
The revolving funds are one of the main ways that the federal government funnels money to the states to support water and wastewater infrastructure, offering low-cost financing for projects.
“We know that many vulnerable communities, including communities of color, have not received their fair share of water infrastructure funding and the consequences to those communities have been devastating,” he said.
The revolving fund dollars are part of $50 billion in the infrastructure law for water projects.
The EPA is approaching the distribution of the infrastructure money, Regan said, “through the lens of justice and equity for everybody—through our belief that everyone in this country has a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and the right to lead a healthy life.”
That will be reflected in the EPA’s upcoming guidance on using the infrastructure funds, he added. The guidance, he said, will “help to ensure that this historic investment reaches the most underserved and overburdened communities.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty based in Washington, D.C.
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