Federal agencies are helping local government leaders mitigate climate risk by “curating the data” and providing analytical tools and technical assistance, said Vicki Arroyo, associate administrator for policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, during a Brookings Institution webinar on the availability of climate data and how cities can best use it. Three tools Arroyo highlighted were:
- The U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, a website the EPA designed to help people understand their exposures to climate change impacts, assess vulnerability and risks, investigate options and prioritize, plan and take action.
- The Office of Water’s Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool, which helps water sector utilities assess climate-related risks to utility assets and operations, develop scenarios based on the threats, outline potential consequences, catalog critical assets and plan adaptations. Updates are added to these tools, Arroyo said, to address the latest climate concerns.
- EJScreen, an environmental justice mapping and screening tool that “allows us internally to think about where we are going in targeting our outreach to communities that are overburdened by pollution and are underserved,” she said.
Many states and local governments now rely on EJScreen to anticipate climate impacts such as wildfire risk, drought, coastal floods and 100-year floods “because they don’t have the resources to do their own EJScreens,” Arroyo added.
Andrew Wishnia, deputy assistant secretary for climate policy in the Transportation Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, noted the importance of localized data in ensuring that funding goes “to those communities that have been left behind in the past.”
He said the DOT is “keenly focused on Justice40,” the White House initiative that aims to allocate 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to those disadvantaged communities.
“Currently, we have 39 Justice40 programs within the Department of Transportation through the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Wishnia said. “That number will obviously grow with the Inflation Reduction Act.”
During the webinar, Wishnia and Arroyo discussed the role of the new Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers program. With $550 million from the IRA, the program will help communities write grant proposals, navigate federal grant application systems and manage grant funding as well as engage community members in communities with environmental justice concerns.
The EJ TCTAC will coordinate with and complement DOT’s Thriving Communities Program. Funded with $25 million through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 passed in December, the Thriving Communities Program aims to ensure disadvantaged communities have the technical tools and organizational capacity to compete for federal aid and deliver quality infrastructure projects.
Applications for the Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking program are due May 31.