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Illinois Extension selected to establish environmental assistance center to help Illinois communities

Main street in a small town

URBANA, Ill. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is funding the creation of Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers to help rural and underserved communities access state and federal funding for environmental infrastructure improvements. University of Illinois Extension’s Community and Economic Development team, in partnership with the University of Minnesota-led TCTAC, will receive $750,000 over five years to form and coordinate a technical assistance center in Illinois.

Illinois Extension CED team members will partner with other Cooperative Extension System members and non-profit partners in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio to apply for federal funding for environmental and energy projects in remote, rural, and disadvantaged communities in the region. Each state will establish “one-stop shops” for grant and planning assistance. The process will be oriented around three activities:

  • Identify underserved and overburdened communities that could benefit from environmental and energy-related programs.
  • Help communities develop their own ability to engage in environmental decision-making and access technical assistance.
  • Provide tailored, accessible, culturally appropriate assistance that allows communities to secure funding and resources that materially improve their social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development Specialist Lisa Merrifield will serve as project manager and Illinois representative for the EPA Region 5 TCTAC. Lisa is an environmental scientist and regional planner with over 25 years of experience working with Illinois communities to build environmental, economic, and social resilience in response to the changing climate.

“The state and federal support available for rural and coal transition communities right now is unprecedented,” says Merrifield. “But we are aware that just making funding available isn’t enough. Rural communities often don’t have the staffing to envision, apply for, and administer these kinds of grants. Our goal is to help provide and build some of that capacity and help break down the barriers for Illinois communities.”

“Illinois communities are ready to build local economic activity on sustainable sources of energy and environmentally sound practices. The help we can provide, through this project, will be timely and relevant to what they want to accomplish,” says Anne Silvis, assistant dean, Community and Economic Development.

Assessing Community Needs

In Illinois, the initial phase is to assess community needs in partnership with Prairie River’s Network and state agencies involved in environmental infrastructure funding for communities. Extension will design and implement programming on topics identified during the assessment. Topics might include material on helping communities navigate federal grant application systems, providing guidance on community engagement, leading community-specific strategic planning, and helping communities secure funds to address legacy pollution and invest in clean energy technologies. 

Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Centers Program

Learn more about the USEPA Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Program awardees, their partners, and the TCTAC program here. To explore more news from the Region 5 Great Lakes Environmental Justice TCTAC visit here.

SOURCE: Lisa Merrifield, Community and Economic Development Specialist, Illinois Extension

WRITER: Dolan Klein, Sr. Manager for Marketing and Communications,

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.