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NMSU awarded $10 million grant to lead regional technical assistance center

As one of 17 awardees selected, New Mexico State University will lead a team to establish an Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center in the region to help underserved and overburdened communities remove barriers and improve accessibility with environmental justice concerns.

Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy announced the $177 million investments. NMSU’s project will cover EPA Region 6, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 tribal nations, and will receive a five-year, $10 million award to create the South Central Environmental Justice Resource Center, or SCEJRC.

“NMSU is extremely pleased to lead this important initiative for the five state South Central region,” said NMSU interim Chancellor Jay Gogue. “Service to the broader public is foundational to our land-grant mission, and we look forward to creating an environmental justice technical assistance center that will truly help communities thrive.”

The centers will provide training to help navigating federal grant application systems, which includes writing grant proposals and managing grant funding. The centers will provide guidance on communication channels to ensure communities have direct access to resources and information, community engagement, meeting facilitation, and translation and interpretation services for limited English-speaking participants.

“This new center leverages a strong team of partners with proven experience in fostering equitable engagement in energy and environmental programs,” said Patricia Sullivan, director of the NMSU Office of Strategic Initiatives. “With our partners, we are committed to building on community-based relationships to remove barriers and improve access to federal and state resources for communities with environmental justice concerns.”

“New Mexico has led the pack in delivering energy for our country, for decades. As the type of energy we rely on shifts, the opportunity to lead grows – and so do the jobs that will come with it. The first step is investing in the people of our great state as they take on the careers that will deliver on the clean energy transition, widespread electrification, resilient grids and multi-state transmission projects,” said New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, chairman-designate of the Joint Economic Committee and a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m proud to welcome this funding and even more proud to see NMSU’s new South Central Environmental Justice Resource Center leading the way in our region. I am committed to making sure that the people and communities in New Mexico who have fueled our country for so long are at the forefront as we continue our work ahead. And I’m grateful to have NMSU as a partner in that work.”

SCEJRC partners include academic institutions; NMSU’s College of Engineering, NMSU’s Cooperative Extension Service and University of Texas at Arlington-based Texas Manufacturing Extension Program; nonprofit organizations: Beloved Community, Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, Inter-Tribal Council of Louisiana, Gulf States Renewable Energy Industry Association, Together Louisiana and G.A.A.P. Grant Writing Training; and industry organizations, LifeCity and Arkansas Capital Corporation.

“With the threat of climate change, it’s more important than ever to build sustainable communities for future generations,” said New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján. “The EPA’s Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers are helping bring environmental justice to communities nationwide. I am proud that NMSU is receiving this investment to establish the South Central Environmental Justice Resource Center – dedicated to empowering community leaders and investing in clean air, water and energy.”

A focus of the SCEJRC will be to provide relevant outreach programming and resources to enhance environmental and energy justice, with an emphasis on disinvested populations in underserved communities and those in rural and remote areas. After the award goes into effect in June, SCEJRC plans to focus on building its resource network during the first year to include creating a database and website.

One of the unique aspects of SCEJRC is the plan to develop an equitable leadership model designed to uplift disinvested communities through leadership, peer learning and outreach training to ensure relevant and active engagement in future environmental and energy policy development; and to empower business leaders for equitable engagement through awareness of current assets and options, and emerging economic opportunities.

SCEJRC plans to expand on Beloved Community’s Equity at Work Communities of Practice program. Beloved will lead the integration and bring together leadership teams from 20 to 30 organizations throughout the region. Participants will develop both interpersonal and institutional capacities to disrupt systemic racism and discrimination that manifests within their organization and its operations.

 “The ability to live and work in environments in which all community members can thrive is a basic human right that too often eludes our most vulnerable and marginalized communities,” Beloved Community Founder and CEO Rhonda J. Broussard said. “Beloved Community is excited to be a part of this initiative and come alongside partners committed to ensuring that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities have voice and power in the conditions and decisions that impact their well-being.”

SCEJRC will create an Environmental Justice Community Leadership Development Cohort by leveraging NMSU Extension’s existing New Mexico Education Designed to Generate Excellence in the Public Sector, or NM EDGE, cohort-based leadership program. NM EDGE provides comprehensive leadership training for administrators, managers, elected officials and staff in local, state, tribal and national governments. The new environmental justice model will focus on fostering leaders that can build trust in decision-making processes through ethics and leadership training.

“Through our Certified Advocate for Public Ethics program, NM EDGE looks forward to providing skills and knowledge to elected officials to help drive informed decision making on issues to advance clean energy and environmental sustainability,” said Christy Green, NM EDGE program director.

Additionally, SCEJRC aims to develop place-based resources and a regional web-based portal and create and deliver environmental justice outreach services such as trainings and workshops that are geographically, demographically, culturally and linguistically relevant, relatable and responsive to community needs.  

“Creating a more equitable world is ultimately about leadership: those with power sharing it, and those facing historical injustices gaining a seat at the table. LifeCity is honored to help support a more equitable world throughout our region,” LifeCity CEO Liz Shephard said.

“The University of Texas at Arlington-based Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center is looking forward to continuing its efforts to assist manufacturers in environmental justice regions across the state in developing and adopting pollution prevention practices that can significantly reduce its environmental impacts,” said Kurt Middelkoop, senior sustainability adviser for TMAC.