Wichita State University’s Environmental Finance Center will receive at least $10 million over the next five years to establish an Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center, according to an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

WSU is one of 17 locations selected to establish centers that will get a total of $177 million to help “underserved and overburdened communities across the country access funds from the  Biden administration’s Investing in America agenda. WSU’s role will be working to promote environmental and energy justice in EPA Region 7 which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and adjoining Indigenous nations.

According to the EPA, the technical assistance centers will focus on “removing barriers and improving accessibility for communities with environmental justice concerns.”

WSU’s  Environmental Finance Center director Tonya Bronleewe said Wichita State University is excited to start supporting communities and organizations in the four states in Region 7.

 “We have a strong team of partners who are ready to connect with local champions to start this important work,” she said.

The centers will also provide training and other assistance to build capacity for navigating federal grant application systems, writing strong grant proposals, and effectively managing grant funding.

The regional centers will be funded to the tune of at least $10 million each with money from the EPA in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This grant from the EPA is a phenomenal opportunity for Wichita State to drive prosperity for rural and underserved communities, who unfortunately carry a disproportionate share of pollution and environmental hazards,” said Wichita State President Rick Muma in a press release. “We look forward to the opportunity to advance environmental justice in our region and promote healthy growth for Kansas and our Midwestern neighbors.”

As EPA Region 7’s only environmental justice center, the EFC at Wichita State will implement an engagement and community assessment process to learn from communities about their burdens, barriers, priorities and opportunities, then work with the communities to address their unique needs by providing training, technical assistance, support services, applied research, tool development and other resources that will help remove barriers and improve accessibility for communities with environmental justice concerns. Each of the technical assistance centers will also create and manage communication channels to ensure all communities have direct access to resources and information.

Wichita State’s technical center will partner with eight nonprofit organizations throughout the four-state region to provide training and other help. Partners include Center for Rural Affairs, Climate and Energy Project, Community Engineering Corps, Environmental Protection Network, Iowa Environmental Council, Kansas Rural Center, Kansas State University Engineering Extension, and Metropolitan Congregations United.

EPA Region 7 administrator Meg McCollister said Wichita State University has worked with EPA Region 7 for many years. “We are thrilled to build upon that partnership to better serve those here in the Heartland who need it most,” she said. “This new center will provide communities throughout Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska with the training, guidance and technical assistance needed to make the most of EPA’s historic funding opportunities.”

Wichita State’s EFC was established in 2010 and is housed within the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs, which aims to engage in applied research and applied learning that benefits the community.