Image above courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund and the Sunnyside Community Redevelopment Organization: A resident of Sunnyside, a neighborhood of Houston, Texas, installs a Clarity Node-S air sensor to detect levels of harmful air pollution.

TL;DR — Through a provision in the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) will make $50 million in funding available to improve ambient air quality monitoring for communities across the United States. The Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities (EAQMC) Program will award $20 million in grants to improve ambient air quality monitoring across the United States with a focus on communities that already suffer a disproportionate burden of health and environmental impacts from air pollution. This funding — the largest investment in community-based air quality monitoring in USEPA history — reflects a paradigm shift that places greater importance on local air quality monitoring and cooperative partnerships at the community level. Specific information on the grant program and how to apply can be found below.

The launch of the USEPA’s Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities Program is a watershed moment in the air quality monitoring space because it indicates that the USEPA has recognized the importance of community monitoring to improving air quality across the United States. This is reflective of a paradigm shift that has occurred in recent years that we refer to as Air Quality Monitoring 2.0.  

Air quality managers are moving from relying solely on reference-grade, government-run air quality monitors to a hybrid model that also incorporates low-cost sensors deployed at the neighborhood level — often in close association with the local community. This approach gives air quality managers and the communities they serve the ability to better identify and mitigate the large disparities in pollution exposure and health outcomes that can occur at the local level, particularly in environmental justice communities.

Low-cost sensors can be deployed alongside reference-grade air quality monitors to create successful hybrid networks. In the image above, low-cost sensors are being colocated as part of the Breathe London project before being deployed throughout the city to supplement existing air quality monitoring infrastructure.

The aim of the USEPA Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities program

The USEPA Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities (EAQMC) program will provide communities across the United States a total of $20 million in grants to improve ambient air quality monitoring under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). This funding builds on the previously announced $50 million in air quality funding specifically provided for environmental justice communities under ARP. This $50 million, in turn, represents about half of the total $100 million provisioned by the ARP to address the disparities in health outcomes that have resulted from both air pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EAQMC program is intended to facilitate ambient air quality monitoring of the air pollutants that present the greatest concern in communities that already suffer disproportionate health and environmental impacts due to air pollution. In communities that already possess some degree of air quality monitoring, the program’s funding can assist in expanding or extending this monitoring.

The funding is awarded to enable communities to take ownership of their air quality by conducting monitoring in partnership with tribal, state, and/or local governments. By doing so, communities can leverage the existing air quality monitoring expertise that governments or monitoring agencies already possess while getting involved in monitoring air quality through initiatives such as community monitoring advisory groups — providing local residents with a greater voice in their air quality and opportunities for sustained involvement in long-term solutions.

The Grant Competition for Community Monitoring

The $20 million in funding provided for expanding community-based ambient air quality monitoring in underserved and under-resourced areas in the United States will be awarded through a competitive Grant Competition. Applications for the Grant Competition for Community Monitoring are due February 25, 2022 at 11:59 PM ET, and you can apply here — or if you would like to work with the Clarity team to explore this opportunity and coordinate a proposal, you can get in touch with us here.  

Parties eligible for the Grant Competition for Community Monitoring include:

  • Community-based nonprofit organizations
  • Indian tribes
  • Local and state governments
  • U.S. territories and possessions
  • Public and private hospitals and laboratories
  • Public or private nonprofit organizations

Within this $20 million in funding, approximately $2 million is set aside specifically for tribal government awards, and another $2 million is set aside for eligible community-based organizations. Note that non-eligible entities can partner with any of the eligible parties listed above to receive funding under a subaward.

The program provides funding intended to support air quality monitoring efforts and promote the formation of partnerships between communities and governments to improve air quality. This means that rather than simply providing funding for the technology that is needed to measure air pollutants, the program seeks to support air quality monitoring programs that will build air monitoring capacity and foster long-term partnerships between these entities.

This funding can be used for ambient air quality monitoring projects and any costs associated with them, including personnel costs, and there is a 3-year maximum grant term. The Grant Competition does not require cost-sharing or fund matching in order for a project to be eligible for funding — that is, an ambient air quality monitoring project can be fully funded by this grant. 

Eligible air quality monitoring projects must measure air pollutants known to be of the greatest concern in communities suffering from disparate health outcomes, such as:

  • Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP), a list of which is available here
  • Criteria air pollutants (carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particle pollution and its precursors, and ozone and its precursors, including nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbonyl)

It’s important to note that funding will not be viable for demonstration or research and development (R&D) projects. Eligible projects must use commercially available solutions such as FEM-certified technology or low-cost sensors that have demonstrated adequate performance against the EPA’s Air Sensor Performance Targets and Testing Protocols.

The USEPA anticipates that this funding will result in about 50-70 assistive agreements, with 20-30 of these being “Small Grants” of $25,000 to $100,000 and 30-40 of these being “Large Grants” of $100,001 to $500,000. Do note, no more than two applications can be submitted by a single organization, and each application must be for a different project type.

The USEPA anticipates that applicants will be notified whether they have been selected in July and August 2022, and anticipated awards will be available in September and October 2022. 

Key dates to keep in mind for the EAQMC Program:

Evaluation criteria against which applications will be scored:

For more detail on evaluation criteria and narrative instructions, see Appendix B in the RFA.

Additional components of the US EPA’s combined funding for enhanced air quality monitoring

Out of the $50 million in ARP funding allocated to air quality monitoring, $20 million has been set aside for the Grant Competition for Community Funding as described above. The remaining $30 million is allocated to the three additional areas of award funding for air quality monitoring.

The Direct Awards to Air Agencies for Continuous Monitoring of PM2.5 and Other Common Air Pollutants awards $22.5 million in funding to organizations that are monitoring fine particulate matter (PM2.5) or any of the other five criteria pollutants as designated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of the Clean Air Act — carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

State, local, and tribal air agencies are eligible to apply for this funding.

The funding provided under the Enhanced Regional Capacity for Short-term Community Monitoring Needs sets aside $5 million in funding for agency mobile monitoring labs and air sensor loan programs. This award is specifically meant for short-term monitoring and air quality information needs.

The remaining $2.5 million is set aside for administrative support to fund improved data management, oversight, and other costs that accrue from administration and tracking of the grants and programs.

What the Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities Program means for community air quality monitoring

Along with the other components of the USEPA funding, the Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring for Communities Program provides greater support for ambient air quality monitoring at the community level.

[The overall $50 million provided in funding] is the largest investment in community-based monitoring systems in USEPA history.”

— US Environmental Protection Agency 

We’re eager to see how this funding can be used to support community air quality monitoring, especially given the vast air pollution disparities experienced by environmental justice communities and communities of color and as exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previous to this program, California was the only state that had directly provided funding for community monitoring, through the California Air Resources Board’s Assembly Bill 617 program — for more on this program, see our blog on the crucial role of environmental justice communities in improving air quality in California under AB 617

A Clarity Node-S air sensor measures particulate matter in Boeddeker Park in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. This sensor is a part of environmental justice nonprofit Brightline Defense's network of more than 20 air quality sensors deployed across San Francisco, funded by California AB 617.

This new program is a great opportunity to expand on the innovative air monitoring work established under AB 617. For communities that have already received funding through CARB’s program and demonstrated success with making an impact on air quality, this program provides an opportunity for additional funding to expand on their air quality monitoring efforts.

This USEPA grant competition is a result of the Biden Administration’s commitment to prioritize environmental and economic justice. The Justice40 initiative is the administration’s effort to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. To learn more about the Biden Administration’s incorporation of environmental justice into environmental and climate policy, read our blog here.

This funding will support communities that need better information about air quality in their neighborhoods and reflects EPA’s commitment to deliver environmental justice for our most vulnerable populations.”

— EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

Clarity’s perspective: The importance of empowering communities with the tools they need to take ownership of air quality

The availability of affordable, accurate air quality monitoring equipment has resulted in a transition from an air quality management approach relying solely government-run regulatory air quality monitoring to a hybrid approach that incorporates locally-led air quality initiatives involving communities, businesses, and schools. The launch of the EAQMC program shows that this paradigm shift is gaining momentum with the USEPA’s recognition of community air quality monitoring as an important factor in improving overall air quality and protecting environmental and public health.

The advent of low-cost sensor networks makes it viable for communities and governments to collaborate on air quality in ways that were not previously possible, and any successful initiative to improve air quality in a specific community will need to involve stakeholders from both the local community and the local government.

Here at Clarity, we’ve conducted community projects with a number of partners to build air quality monitoring capacity at the community level, including working with Brightline Defense in San Francisco, Groundwork Richmond in Richmond, California, and Pleasantville in Houston, Texas. By working to assess the community’s specific air quality monitoring needs, addressing any pollution hotspots, and working closely with community leaders and residents to build air quality monitoring knowledge and capacity, these projects aim to improve air quality and protect public health in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Eddie Ahn of Brightline Defense installs low-cost sensors as part of the organization’s community air quality monitoring efforts in San Francisco, California. By placing low-cost sensors throughout the city, especially in communities that experience disproportionate levels of air pollution and its associated negative health effects, organizations like Brightline can work to improve local residents’ burden of air pollution.

We have also partnered with government agencies like the Monterey Bay Air Resources District (MBARD) to support community-level ambient air quality monitoring. To support efforts during the high levels of air pollution that come with seasonal wildfires in the region, MBARD looked to create a network of air quality sensors as a supplement to their existing reference-grade monitoring stations.

Low-cost sensors such as the one deployed in San Juan Bautista, California shown above are placed across more than 20 municipalities by Monterey Bay Air Resources District to monitor air quality.

Though originally envisioned for wildfire-related needs, the sensors are employed for a variety of uses to protect public and environmental health — for example, the sensors’ flexible siting means that MBARD can also specifically site air quality sensors in disadvantaged communities and low-income areas, supported by funding under the Community Air Protection Program (CAPP) from CARB.

Applying for the USEPA Enhanced Air Quality Monitoring Program

We’re eager to see how the USEPA’s EAQMC Program will support expanded community environmental monitoring and empower underserved communities that face high health and environmental burdens to take ownership of their air quality.

The Request for Application and all application forms are available here — or if you would like to work with the Clarity team to explore this opportunity and coordinate a proposal, you can get in touch with us here

Want to learn how to plan, deploy, and manage an air quality monitoring network? To help community groups and other organizations that wish to establish an air sensor network for the first time, we have put together a free Guide to Leveraging Low-Cost Sensors for Air Quality Monitoring 2.0.

Any questions about the EAQMC program can be emailed to AirMonitoring@epa.gov, and must be submitted before February 18, 2022.

More resources for those with limited to no experience applying for EPA or federal assistance can be found here:

The full recording of the USEPA Funding Opportunity Information Session on this program (hosted on January 11, 2022), as well as the presentation slides and question and answer document, will be available on the EPA's EAQMC website page.