FIRST ON FOX: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent $4.3 million in funds from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on environmental justice and climate change programs promoting activities like tree planting, "pruning workshops," and achieving "greater acceptance of trees" in cities.
Last April, the EPA announced it was awarding $200,000 each to dozens of projects "focusing on COVID-19 impacts, as well as climate and disaster resiliency" in "underserved communities" through its Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program. The program awarded a total of 34 organizations using $4.3 million in funds from Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, as well as $2.5 million from the EPA’s annual appropriation for environmental justice.
One Indianapolis-based organization, called Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, was awarded $200,000 for an initiative called "Greening Urban Neighborhoods," which included educating residents about "the benefits of trees" and increasing "acceptance of trees in the City."
Another organization, the New Mexico-based Tree New Mexico, received ARP funds to plant trees in the "underserved area of the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque." That project included "pruning workshops" and providing "tree care education" with the goal of more residents becoming "citizen tree stewards committed to caring for newly planted trees and older trees," and to decrease the "heat island effect" that occurs in urbanized areas.
The Houston-based Black United Fund of Texas received ARP funds through the EPA program for a project developing "a shipping container farm, residential gardens, green technology, tree and native habitat planting, workforce development, and public education."
According to the EPA website, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Hourcar was also awarded EJCPS funds, funded by the ARP, to launch "Evie Carshare, a new all-electric carsharing program featuring 150 shared electric vehicles supported by 70 curbside charging stations, with a focus on service to low-income and BIPOC communities."
The USASpending.gov website, which documents government spending, says that the $200,000 in ARP funds for the grant was "obligated."
Just before Democrats passed the ARP in March 2021, without any Republican support, Biden described every allocation of funds in the legislation as essential.
"We need Congress to pass my American Rescue Plan that deals with the immediate crisis — the urgency," the president said at the time. "Now, critics say my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion. So that’s too much. Well, let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out?"
Now, the ARP is facing intensifying scrutiny for its role in the current inflation crisis, which hit a whopping 8.6% last month. Some economists, including former Obama administration economic advisers, have blamed the ARP for overheating the economy.
"While our nation is $30 trillion in the hole and hemorrhaging money on the federal level, news like this should outrage every taxpayer," Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, told Fox News Digital in a statement. "These examples are not appropriate functions of government, and are just the tip of the iceberg. The EPA – and I would argue every agency – must be held to account for how they’re utilizing public funds."
Fox News Digital previously reported that the EPA also used $5.25 million in ARP funds through its Environmental Justice Small Grants Program in 2021 to award grants for projects that had virtually little to do with addressing COVID-19 or the effects of the pandemic.
One of the nonprofits that received a grant through that program 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."
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."
In a statement provided to Fox News Digital Wednesday evening, the EPA said all applications for the EJCPS program "went through a rigorous scoring and approval process to ensure project activities and goals align with statutory authorities and the language and intent of ARP."
"All applications selected for funding were reviewed by EPA’s Office of General Counsel," the statement read. "The EJ grants program funds community-driven projects. A basic tenet of environmental justice is that communities speak for themselves and are in the best position to know how to resolve challenges that they are facing. The EJ grants program, now with almost three decades of experience at awarding effective grants to communities across the country, has a record of investing taxpayer dollars in responsible ways and in places that meet communities’ needs and support longer term goals for community revitalization."