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College of Arts and Sciences

New USC center will help communities seeking federal environmental, infrastructure grants

Communities throughout South Carolina can now receive assistance applying for federal grants thanks to a new center at the University of South Carolina. 

The Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (EJ TCTAC) at USC will guide communities with all aspects of navigating the federal grant process, from holding public input meetings to managing grant reports when a project is completed. The faculty-led initiative will especially focus on helping historically underserved communities. 

“The purpose of the TCTAC is to help the communities that aren’t well situated to apply for this federal funding,” says Matt Kisner, chair of the Department of Philosophy and an expert on environmental ethics. “These are often the communities that most need the funding.” 

Two recent federal laws, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, budgeted billions of dollars to support projects that can make a positive environmental impact. But the application process can be daunting for communities that do not have large staffs. With the TCTAC’s support, a town or county government, as well as nonprofits and other community organizations, can pursue the grant process. 

“There are a lot of technical issues involved in transforming the nation’s infrastructure, such as the best technology to use to build roads or to keep our water systems safe form pollution," Kisner says. “But then there are also value questions. You want to do this in a way that promotes justice.” 

Kisner says that an ethical approach to infrastructure work not only requires ensuring that marginalized communities are not negatively impacted, but also that they are included throughout the planning process, from identifying a need to designing a solution. 

Kisner and Ziolkowski are leading the TCTAC not only with their individual expertise, but also their experience leading environmental projects and conversations in South Carolina. Ziolkowski has served on the City of Columbia’s Climate Protection Action Committee, and Kisner organized the Climate Ready Columbia conference in 2022. That conference sparked conversations about how to help more South Carolina communities take action on climate change and ultimately led to the TCTAC. 

The center also will hire a staff member to work directly with communities. The position will be posted in August, with work beginning by November 1. 

Joel Samuels, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says the new center exemplifies the college’s interdisciplinary mission to serve residents of South Carolina. 

“We are pleased to host a center that will assist South Carolina communities with promoting environmental justice, reducing pollution and countering the effects of climate change,” he says. “The College of Arts and Sciences is committed to making an impact on our state through interdisciplinary research and outreach, and I look forward to seeing how this center enhances quality of life and health through environmental improvements statewide." 

 The USC TCTAC is one of eight university-based centers in the Southeast coordinated by Research Triangle Institute International, a nonprofit based in North Carolina. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy awarded RTI $10 million to coordinate the centers. USC will receive about $1 million over the next five years to support its work with communities. 

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