Stansbury hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding, energy transition efforts

Small entities and communities need help to access federal grants. They may not have the resources to go after federal grants or even know what funding opportunities are available. That was among the messages that a group of advocates, state officials and academics told U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional […]

Stansbury hosts roundtable discussion about federal funding, energy transition efforts

Small entities and communities need help to access federal grants. They may not have the resources to go after federal grants or even know what funding opportunities are available.

That was among the messages that a group of advocates, state officials and academics told U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, during a roundtable discussion on Tuesday in Albuquerque.

During the discussion, Stansbury asked the participants what the federal government could do better to support New Mexico’s transition to cleaner energy sources and she asked the participants about the challenges that they are facing in accessing funding.

Federal funding for projects aimed at combating climate change is available through various pieces of legislation including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

But various grants require different types of applications and participants expressed interest in making it easier for organizations and communities to apply for funding by making applications that have more elements in common. During the roundtable discussion, this was referred to as a base application. Participants said it might make it easier for entities to apply for funding from programs that are less familiar to them.

The challenges with accessing funding are especially pronounced in rural areas and tribal communities, including on the Navajo Nation where there is less access to information due to lack of broadband infrastructure and where language can prove a bigger barrier especially for older people.

Wendy Atcitty, a Diné activist who has been involved in energy transition efforts in the Farmington area, said that during an Energy Transition Act Committee meeting community organizations who had submitted proposals for state ETA funding were told that they may need to look for federal funding opportunities.

However, this posed a challenge. 

“We reached out to consultants that made a nice, pretty page of all these resources to go down the bullet line list with, but it didn’t mean nothing when you put it in the hands of the community people, because it was just like, what more stuff do we have to get through,” she said. 

Eventually, Atcitty said there a council delegate organized a workshop that brought together federal agencies, Navajo Nation officials and grassroots organizations to learn about funding opportunities. That workshop was then followed with a second workshop a few months later.

“At the end, we have at least, I would say, a handful of successful community projects that were able to get support from the tribal government,” she said. “But the thing is, it took a process and actually took people to visit their community to see on the ground what we have to work with.”

Atcitty highlighted some of the challenges including lack of cell service and roads that can become impassable during certain weather conditions.

But, she said, it isn’t enough to simply schedule a workshop.

Extra efforts should be made to let people know about the workshop. Atcitty said one thing that made the three-day event a success was that it was advertised in each of the Navajo agencies, or regions.

The participants also stressed the need for technical support such as grant writing and Stansbury said there is funding available for organizations to offer technical assistance. She gave the example of a $3 million grant that the University of New Mexico’s school of engineering received to provide technical assistance for water projects.

Camilla Feibelman, executive director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, said one thing that her organization would like to see from the federal government is making sure the projects that receive funding are science-backed proposals. She criticized funding for hydrogen and carbon capture projects.

“I just worry that in our rush to find climate solutions, we’re kind of willing to take anything,” she said. “So I feel like it would be helpful…to really make sure that the projects that are ultimately funded, have a real chance of reducing our climate emissions.”

Another topic that the participants discussed was intersectionality and how an effort to address affordable housing might overlap with efforts to combat climate change. Stansbury spoke about the history of the electric grid and how anti-poverty programs led to expanded infrastructure.

She said the energy transition will require a similar type of community-centered effort.

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