Grassley Report Exposes Unchecked Waste of Taxpayer Funds in EPA Environmental Justice Program

BUTLER COUNTY, IOWA – Millions of taxpayer dollars funneled through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant program were largely used by recipient organizations to cover the organizations’ overhead and operating expenses, without yet producing tangible results demonstrating the efficacy of the environmental justice program.
Records and receipts tracking expenditures in the EPA’s 2021 Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving (EJCPS) Cooperative Agreement Program, released today in a report by Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), reveal a vast portion of the $4.3 million allocated to the EJCPS program through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act was spent by grantee organizations for internal and superfluous purposes, including to fund employees’ salaries, cover benefits and even pay for vacation expenses. 
Read Grassley’s report HERE.
Access the report’s supporting exhibits HERE
“Climate change poses real challenges, but the EPA’s efforts to address climate issues through its 2021 environmental justice program don’t pass the smell test. Obvious abuse of taxpayer dollars and faulty EPA oversight of grantees raise major concerns for this program and cast doubt on the agency’s fiscal responsibility,” Grassley said
“Americans deserve properlymanaged grant programs that measurably benefit their local communities and our nation. Having seen this grant program laid bare, it’s difficult for me to imagine how any American taxpayer would rather have their hard-earned money invested in this program, rather than back in their own pocket. The EPA needs to correct course and explain to the American people how it plans to appropriately oversee and administer millions of taxpayer dollars going forward,” Grassley concluded.
Key Findings 
  • Of the information Grassley obtained, roughly 90 percent of the documented spending by each grantee was used for overhead costs such as salaries, benefits, travel, taxes, rent and indirect expenses. 
  • Few grantees could provide clear evidence of impactful efforts to confront environmental and public health issues at this stage of the grant. Grantees cited extracurricular activities – such as preparing rap songs for youth on environmental health topics – as proof of progress.
  • The EPA lacks the proper oversight mechanisms to determine how grantees spend taxpayer funds. Currently, the only documentation the EPA requires from grantees is an SF-425. SF-425s only show how much funding each organization received and how much it has left, not how funds were spent.
  • EPA’s failure to properly steward taxpayer funds in the 2021 EJCPS program prompts serious concern for future spending and necessitates continued congressional oversight of the EPA’s 2023 EJCPS program, which was allocated over $40 million through the Inflation Reduction Act. Without agency reform and congressional watchdog efforts, further taxpayer funds could be squandered.
EPA Obstruction and OIG Response
Over the course of Grassley’s investigation of the 2021 EJCPS program, the EPA for months engaged in overt and persistent obstruction of congressional oversight. Shortly after Grassley requested documentation from each organization – information which should have been readily on-hand – multiple organizations became evasive or nonresponsive. Organizations instead cited recent communication from the EPA that the agency would respond on behalf of all grantees. Grantees understood this communication as a directive not to respond to Grassley’s oversight requests, thereby preventing Grassley from collecting all documents relevant to his investigation. When confronted by Grassley about this mischaracterization, EPA refused to clarify to grantees that each was free to respond to Grassley’s requests for information, prolonging the obstruction and hamstringing congressional oversight. 
At Grassley’s request, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has committed to initiating an audit of the 2021 EJCPS program and reviewing EPA’s obstruction. Additionally, EPA OIG now cites oversight of agency grants as a top management priority for Fiscal Year 2024.
EPA selected 34 community-based organizations to participate in its 2021 EJCPS program. Each organization was eligible to receive up to $200,000 for the purposes of “develop[ing] and implement[ing] solutions that address environmental and/or public health issues for underserved communities.” 
Pursuant to Congress’s obligation to ensure taxpayer money is not subject to waste, fraud, or abuse, Grassley on April 13, 2023 sent letters to the EPA and all 34 participants in the 2021 EJCPS program requesting documentation to determine the organizations’ progress and use of taxpayer dollars. 
The participating organizations and Grassley’s corresponding letters follow: 
  1. Bad River Band Tribe of Bad River Community, Wisconsin
  2. Bike WalkKC of Kansas City, Missouri
  3. Black United Fund of Texas of Houston, Texas
  4. Center for Habitat Reconstruction of San Juan, Puerto Rico
  5. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead, Montana
  6. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation of Northern Region, Washington
  7. Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  8. Front and Centered of Seattle, Washington
  9. Greater Baybrook Alliance, Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland
  10. Green Chips of Las Vegas, Nevada
  11. Hartford Parent University, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut
  12. Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah of Salt Lake County, Utah
  13. Hourcar of St. Paul, Minnesota
  14. Kaunalewa of Kaunalewa, Hawaii
  15. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana
  16. Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation of New Orleans, Louisiana
  17. Little Village EJ Organization of Chicago, Illinois
  18. Live Healthy Little Havana, Inc. of Little Havana, Florida
  19. Metro Community Ministries of Atlanta, Georgia
  20. Mid-America Regional Council CSC of Kansas City, Missouri
  21. Namati, Inc. of Washington, D.C. 
    1. Namati, Inc. withdrew from the EJCPS program before drawing down any taxpayer funds.
  22. Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc. of Springfield, Massachusetts
  23. Pioneer Bay Community Development Corporation of Gulf County, Florida
  24. SEEED, Inc. of Knoxville, Tennessee
  25. St. Croix Foundation of St. Croix, Virgin Islands
  26. Sustainable Solano, Inc. of Vallejo, California
  27. Tennessee Environmental Council of Nashville, Tennessee
  28. Tree New Mexico of La Mesa, New Mexico
  29. Tulalip Tribes of Washington of Tulalip, Washington
  30. Utah Clean Energy of Salt Lake City, Utah
  31. Vista Community Clinic of North San Diego County, California
  32. Wabanaki Public Health and Wellness of Bangor, Maine
  33. Western Reserve Land Conservancy of Cleveland, Ohio
  34. Yurok Tribe of Klamath, California