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EPA to host a 10-month program to address Metro East environmental issues

Emily Whang
NPR Next Generation Radio
The Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a 10-month Environmental Justice Academy to train people in the Metro East on ways to identify and address flooding, illegal dumping, air pollution and other environmental challenges in their communities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a 10-month program to teach people in the Metro East ways to improve their community’s environment.

The Environmental Justice Academy seeks to help cultivate skills to better address environmental issues in vulnerable communities and train participants on how to engage with local leaders and lawmakers on creating better environmental policies. Participants also can learn the basics of environmental regulations and how to write and apply for EPA grants.

There will be infrastructure funding flowing in the Metro East area soon, and the EPA wants community members who are directly impacted by environmental issues to receive some of that money, said Alexa Burnett, a life scientist for EPA’s Region 5.

“We want people to leave this feeling ready to work to go apply for grants and to have the tools and resources they need to really make some concrete change in their community,” Burnett said.

People 16 and older who live or work in St. Clair, Monroe, Madison, Clinton and Jersey counties can apply to participate in the program. Program directors encourage local activists, concerned community members and nonprofit leaders who have a particular interest in improving the environment in the Metro East to apply. Applications are open until Nov. 3.

The EPA is collaborating with the Kapal Foundation in East St. Louis and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to bring a nine-part curriculum to about 20 people every four to six weeks beginning in January. Throughout the program, people will work on projects that can be pitched to funders.

Burnett said flooding, water quality, adequate food access and workforce development were heavy topics at previous environmental justice academy sessions the EPA held across the nation. She expects Metro East participants will want to discuss the same matters.

The EPA has been working with local leaders and environmental activists in the Metro East for a while, and they could help the environmental justice academy find more people to fight for a cleaner environment, said Elizabeth Poole, the children's environmental health coordinator for EPA’s Region 5.

“We met all these amazing people doing sort of similar work and it felt like this is, to me, one of the most cool parts of the academy,” she said. “I think learning from our peers is where we're going to learn the most.”

For three years, JD Dixon has been putting on environmental justice rallies, organizing clean-up efforts for illegal dumping sites and calling out some area chemical plants for contaminating the air and soil in East St. Louis. He said the academy will bring more awareness to people in the area who want cleaner air and protection against flooding disasters.

Dixon, an environmental justice organizer for activist group Empire 13, is working on grants that will address illegal dumping and infrastructure issues in the Metro East. He will bring his knowledge to the academy as a facilitator for one of the modules to help people come up with comprehensive plans to address environmental issues.

“The biggest thing that I want, for those who attend the academy is learning how to really address policy and legislation, and put in work and effort and get results out of that to bring those resources and to bring that true systemic change to the community,” Dixon said.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.