The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting new applications for grants funded by President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed in 2021, but last year’s awards funded some projects that had virtually little to do with addressing the impact of the pandemic.
The EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program recently announced it is using $1.6 million of American Rescue Plan funds to award grants to "federally recognized tribal governments to establish or modify public participation programs where fair treatment and meaningful participation priorities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Approximately 16 to 20 grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded for each project, the EPA announced March 21.
Last year under the same program, 99 organizations nationwide were selected to receive awards totaling approximately $7.4 million in grant funding, which included $5.25 million allocated from the American Rescue Plan and $2.15 million from what the EPA describes as its "baseline [Environmental Justice] appropriation." Those grants were for up to $75,000 for each project that addressed "health outcome disparities from pollution and the COVID–19 pandemic," the EPA said at the time.
A review of the 2021 awards, however, shows that the program funded grants for some projects that had virtually little to do with addressing COVID-19 or the effects of the pandemic.
Unlike this year, the 2021 awards were not designated specifically for "federally recognized tribal governments" and the majority was awarded to groups it defined as "small nonprofit organizations."
One of the nonprofits that received a grant was the Massachusetts-based organization Speak for the Trees for a project utilizing "storytelling" and "tree walks," among other techniques, aimed to "increase awareness and dialogue surrounding inequitable tree canopy cover and its implications on the health of residents living in [environmental justice] communities."
The New Orleans-based Teaching Responsible Earth Education, or T.R.E.E., received a grant to "establish an empowering, school curriculum-integrated environmental education program for younger students propelling their awareness of problems like climate change and the injustices they create."
Some of the grants went to projects promoting "green infrastructure" like electric vehicle charging stations.
Clean Air Carolina, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, received a grant for a project to install a public Level 2 EV charging station and to create an educational video as a way for "community members to get involved to mitigate air pollution."
Roanoke Economic Development Inc, based in Rich Square, North Carolina, received a grant to "address air pollution and climate change through the development of a regional electric vehicle charger installation plan to promote EV use and accessibility by minority and low-income populations."
An EPA spokesperson said in a statement provided to Fox News Digital that the American Rescue Plan funds provided for the program "allows communities to implement solutions that can improve conditions related to COVID-19 such as air quality issues."
"These projects all went through a rigorous scoring and approval process to ensure project activities and goals align with our statutory authorities and the language and intent of ARP," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the 2022 call for grant applications from federally recognized tribes "is utilizing the EJ Small Grants Program to efficiently facilitate distribution of funds to federally recognized tribal governments in line with the ARP statutory requirements, but does not affect any past or upcoming funding opportunities for the program."
The new call for applications, which ends May 20, comes as the American Rescue Plan faces intensifying scrutiny for its effect on the U.S. economy. Inflation hit 8.5% in March, and some economists, including former Obama administration economic advisers, have blamed the $1.9 COVID-19 relief package for overheating the economy.
"I’m not surprised in the slightest the Biden administration is using pandemic relief funds to foot the bill for ridiculous initiatives like environmental justice, telling people not to eat fish, or other Green New Deal initiatives," Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, told Fox News Digital. "They have no respect for taxpayers dollars and have made a mockery of addressing climate change with their woke agenda."
Daren Bakst, an energy expert at the Heritage Foundation, slammed the Biden administration for using taxpayer money to fund environmental "extremism."
"COVID-19 relief money shouldn’t be some cover for the Biden administration to use taxpayer dollars to fund its far-left agenda and to indoctrinate people in environmental extremism," Bakst told Fox News Digital. "But that appears to be happening at the EPA. Taking community tree walks, teaching people how to prevent future marine debris, and similar funded projects have nothing to do with the pandemic."
"Americans are being crushed by inflation rates not seen in over 40 years, thanks in large part to out-of-control federal spending," he added. "If the Biden administration is genuinely concerned about low-income communities, it would stop its excessive spending, war on energy, and general regulatory avalanche that is hitting Americans hard — especially low-income communities — through skyrocketing prices."