A training program in Baltimore that prepares young people for jobs in water infrastructure will receive a $200,000 federal boost as part millions of dollars in new grants the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled Friday.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan made the trip to Baltimore from Washington to announce the grants at the Baltimore City Department of Public Works’ Ashburton Water Filtration Plant near Druid Hill Park.
Regan described the grant for DPW’s six-month job training program — and more than $14 million in grants for other efforts elsewhere in the country — as part of a multimillion effort to address environmental justice by providing jobs and more services for communities that have born the brunt of pollution.
“Our investment is a step toward getting us to a powerful water workforce that our future demands and our community deserves,” said Regan, who was appointed as the country’s top environmental regulator earlier this year by President Joe Biden and confirmed in March.
Regan said other newly announced grants — all funded by Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Democrats in Congress earlier this year — would go toward buying electric school buses to replace aging diesels, beefing up enforcement of air pollution rules, funding drinking water work in rural tribal communities and paying for efforts to redevelop contaminated former industrial sites.
City officials said the $200,000 grant will allow them to expand the YH20 Career Mentoring Program to include more students and add training for other types of sanitation work. A cadre of recent graduates met with Regan and other officials Friday morning, including 25-year-old Alexander Sears, who described his 2019 experience with the course as a life-changing chance at a steady and secure career to support his family.
Sears, who now works in maintenance for DPW fixing burst pipes and locating leaks, joked that the suit he wore to Friday’s event was the first time he’d been clean in weeks because his job routinely involves digging into muck to keep the city’s aging water system running.
“When we go down there and fix (pipes), it kind of makes you feel good that you’re ensuring that everybody has water to wash with,” Sears said.
Baltimore Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Shorter and Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles joined Regan at the event, as did U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats. Cardin and Van Hollen cited their work with the Biden administration to deliver the funding — and pointed toward trillions more in potential funding in Biden’s proposed infrastructure and jobs packages that could pay for environmental projects in the state.