- The U.S. EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management held a public information session on Wednesday to collect feedback on its draft Environmental Justice Action Plan, focusing specifically on how to consider EJ as it develops parameters for new waste and recycling grants funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- The EPA is in the midst of finalizing new grant programs for recycling infrastructure and recycling education, as well as a battery collection and labeling effort. The agency will host more feedback sessions on the EJ action plan in coming weeks and will accept written comments through Aug. 1.
- Public comments are one of the most important ways to center EJ in the agency’s actions, said Nena Shaw, the EPA’s acting director of the resource conservation and sustainability division. “If we don’t provide programs that meet your needs, we are not doing our jobs,” she said.
The EPA’s draft EJ Action Plan lays out how the OLEM plans to more intentionally consider EJ factors when enacting programs or regulations and is part of a wider Biden administration directive to all federal agencies.
The Wednesday feedback session is also one of the steps the EPA must take to allocate funding approved in the infrastructure bill passed in November. The bill includes $375 million to develop programs for recycling infrastructure and recycling education, as well as battery collection and battery labeling efforts.
Many of the public comments during the Wednesday event centered around how the EPA will implement the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) grant program, which will offer $275 million for projects like municipal recycling program improvements and upgrades to local waste management systems. Applicants, including states, territories and tribal governments, will likely need to pick projects that support disadvantaged communities and reduce plastic waste.
The EPA expects to open the application process by September or October, but final details of what types of projects will be eligible are still in the works, Shaw said.
Attendees offered varied perspectives on how to fund new infrastructure and educational opportunities without causing further harm to overburdened communities.
Speakers from Zero Waste USA urged the EPA to fund grant proposals that focus on recycling and composting efforts and programs that benefit often-overlooked multifamily housing units. They also called to restrict funding to proposals that involve chemical recycling or incineration.
Aditi Varshneya, a membership coordinator with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, urged the EPA not to fund chemical recycling initiatives, saying the projects could emit similar air pollution to waste incinerators. The grant “shouldn’t be funding further environmental injustices,” she said.
Shaw acknowledged chemical recycling is an “ interesting and complex” topic and that the EPA is in the process of developing regulations for pyrolysis and gasification units that could influence future actions and funding efforts.
Several other participants suggested the grant program allow anaerobic digestion infrastructure proposals, though some advocated instead for more community composting grants, saying those sites may generate less carbon dioxide than digesters and can create opportunities for jobs and community engagement.
One Baltimore resident, who lives near the city’s incinerator, said his community would be exposed to less air pollution if projects like curbside composting and source reduction for single-use plastics diverted more waste from the facility. Numerous other participants underscored the need for projects that prioritize source reduction strategies, as well as reuse and refill options that keep plastics and other materials out of landfills.
No waste haulers or industry trade groups identified themselves during the comment session, though a moderator read through several unattributed comments.
The SWIFR grant program, authorized by the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, has a public comment process separate from the EJ action plan and will solicit feedback through July 25.