Research Institutions Receive EPA Grants to Explore Impacts of the Energy Transition on Underserved Communities

Brian McCowan, Zondits staff, 9/5/2023

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $11 million dollars in research grant awards to 11 education and research entities. The funding is to be used for researching the financial and environmental impacts of the transition away from fossil fuels in Tribal and other underserved communities.

The funding comes at a time when there is growing concern that the transition to electrification and renewable energy is largely affordable for only higher-income individuals and communities. Electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, induction cooking, and solar PV all require investments that are often beyond the reach of moderate- and lower-income households. In addition, Tribal communities have historically been underserved by energy efficiency and clean energy programs that are funded through both rate-payer and tax-payer programs.

Chris Frey, an Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development states that “Addressing climate change and environmental justice issues are two priorities that are integral to EPA’s mission. This research will help us understand how transitioning away from fossil-based energy systems may impact communities and can help pave the way to a just and equitable energy future.”

The grantee organizations are to engage with the underserved communities to better understand the challenges they face, including environmental health impacts, and the drivers that influence energy decisions. The technologies and policies involved are wide-ranging and include transitioning from fossil- to bio-fuels, energy storage, electrification of households and transportation, indoor and outdoor air quality, and the closing of oil refineries that impact underserved communities.

According to the EPA press release, the research is intended to provide a better scientific foundation for the design of programs in support of the “sustainable transition to renewable and low-carbon energy systems.”

The EPA summaries of the individual grants are as follows:

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Mass., to engage with lower-income households and neighborhoods in Holyoke, Massachusetts, to improve knowledge on drivers, barriers, and environmental benefits of shifting to using electric sources of energy within households.
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine, to engage with indigenous, rural, and low-income communities in Maine to understand the role of statewide Local Energy Action Networks (LEANs) in supporting and advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency adoption.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., to work with rural and urban community members in New England to deliver information and tools that empower community-based environmental organizations to identify and advocate for renewable energy projects that are consistent with community values.
  • Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, N.C., to partner with communities living near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in eastern North Carolina to determine the environmental, public health, economic, and environmental justice impacts of large-scale swine waste-to-energy operations.
  • Green Umbrella, Cincinnati, Ohio, to evaluate the effects of using electrical power and energy efficiency on household energy consumption, security, and behavior, as well as on indoor air quality for residents of multi-family dwelling units in urban Cincinnati.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Ill., to investigate the air quality and public health impacts of transitioning to electric freight vehicles, with a focus on the Little Village neighborhood in southwest Chicago.
  • Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich., to engage with Tribal and rural community leaders in forest-dependent communities in northern Michigan to study the impacts of current energy systems and pathways for energy transitions that enhance community well-being through improved public health, economic opportunity, and energy justice outcomes.
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, to engage with underserved communities in the Columbus Metropolitan Area to understand community use of electrical power and mobility needs, and to develop assessments and toolkits to support decision-makers on energy transitions that improve health, environmental and social conditions in underserved communities.
  • University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif., to assess and communicate the air quality and health implications of a transition from oil refining to biofuel for energy production and to engage with communities near oil refineries in the northeast San Francisco Bay area to develop a web-based tool for informing petroleum refinery conversions or retirement.
  • Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., to develop a framework for evaluating neighborhood air pollution changes arising from shifting to alternative public transportation and electricity generation, using Maricopa County, Arizona, as a case study.
  • Portland State University, Portland, Ore., to engage with communities in the western U.S. to understand the environmental justice impacts of renewable energy storage from a community-engaged perspective, focusing on different nodes spanning the life cycle of renewable energy storage infrastructures, activities, and technologies.

The individual awards range from approximately $650,000 to $1.1 million.

Expanded descriptions of the awards can be viewed at: Drivers and Environmental Impacts of Energy Transitions in Underserved Communities Grants | US EPA