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July 13, 2021 4:00 PM, EDT

Federal Grants Program to Include Focus on Environmental Justice, Racial Equality

Grants An electric vehicle charges. Vehicle electrification was cited as a possibility for the grant funding. (jonathanfilskov-photography/Getty Images)

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A popular Federal Highway Administration grant program for the first time asks those seeking contracts to include a focus on “racial equity, environmental justice and access to opportunity.”

The agency’s Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program offers $60 million in grants for projects.

It also supports electric-vehicle charging and other technologies that help reduce emissions, according to a recent agency announcement.

“The department has added areas of interest to the [Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment] program application process to be more aligned with administration priorities that include building equity into the transportation system, increasing access to jobs, schools and businesses, and tackling the climate crisis,” an FHWA spokesperson told Transport Topics.

State departments of transportation, local government groups, transit agencies and metropolitan planning organizations are eligible to apply. According to the Notice of Funding Opportunity synopsis, the closing date for applications is Aug. 23. Partnerships with private sector groups are encouraged.

The new focus by the agency is reflective of a sweeping executive order by President Joe Biden in January calling for a review of all environmental regulations set during the term of President Donald Trump with a focus on environmental justice — an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in low-income and minority communities across the United States.

The executive order makes “environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.”

“This is just another example of what federal agencies are planning on doing going forward to address environmental justice,” said Glen Kedzie, energy and environmental affairs counsel for American Trucking Associations. “This is not the last.”

Glenn Kedzie, energy and environmental counsel at the American Trucking Associations

Kedzie

Kedzie said he expects to see some creative approaches being used by all federal agencies to carry out the mandate from the president to include an emphasis on racial equity and environmental justice.

“Obviously, one of the key areas the agency will probably look at will be those frequented by trucking,” Kedzie said. “They include the areas around ports, the areas around rail yards and warehouses. The housing stock around industrial-zoned areas is not the same as living in the suburbs.”

The language of the president’s executive order promises to hold accountable sources of pollution that disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities. “The federal government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must advance environmental justice,” it said.

The FHWA innovative grants program announced on July 7 was established under the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, intended to improve the performance of U.S. transportation systems, reduce traffic congestion and improve the safety of the traveling public.

Since 2016, the program has provided more than $256 million for projects in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

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In past years, FHWA Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment program grants have included such projects as the Texas Connected Freight Corridors Project Texas ($6 million), the Truck Reservation System and Automated Work Flow Data Model in Virginia ($1.5 million), Interstate 10 Corridor Coalition Truck Parking ($6.8 million), and the Freight Advanced Traveler Information System ($3 million).

But this year, two of the seven grant opportunity areas will include transportation technologies on “climate change and environmental justice impacts,” and investments that “proactively address racial equity and barriers to opportunity.”

“Projects should directly support climate action plans or apply environmental justice screening tools in the planning stage,” the announcement said. “Projects should reduce emissions, promote energy efficiency, incorporate electrification or zero emission vehicle infrastructure, increase resiliency or recycle existing infrastructure.”

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