The Gem State Air Quality Initiative, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) Program, strives to bring about positive changes in Idaho’s environmental landscape. The program is funded by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). With a focus on job creation, reduced energy costs, and cleaner air, this initiative aims to make a difference in the daily lives of Idaho residents, especially those in rural communities.
Jess Byrne, Director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and his staff members as well as University of Idaho professor Dr. Megan Foster, gave an overview of the plan on October 19 at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. The meeting is available online here. Byrne called it a unique opportunity for Idaho to leverage federal funding for state priorities, and emphasized that nothing about the program increases regulation or is mandatory. He cited reducing the impact of wildfire smoke and the ability of grants to increase high-paying jobs as two of the most exciting opportunities for Idaho.
At the presentation, officials said the key benefits to Idaho of this program would be:
- Improved air quality, including in rural communities,
- Improved health benefits, including in rural communities,
- Increased support for high-paying jobs across Idaho, including rural communities,
- Greater community engagement across the state,
- Better understanding of the state’s sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
The initiative is divided into two phases, starting with the planning phase. In collaboration with the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is leading the effort to develop a Priority Plan by March 1, 2024, and a Comprehensive Plan by the summer of 2025.
The Priority Plan’s goal is to identify existing or shovel-ready projects, ensuring eligibility for funding under the implementation grant. DEQ and the McClure Center are actively seeking input from various stakeholders, including municipalities, Tribes, state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and businesses, to create a list of voluntary measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Building on the Priority Plan, the Comprehensive Plan is a long-term framework that encompasses a wide range of voluntary air quality improvement efforts across all sectors in Idaho.
The second phase involves competitive implementation grants, with the EPA anticipating awards ranging from $2 million to $500 million in individual grants. The Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) has been released, and eligible entities, including municipalities, state agencies, and Tribes in Idaho, can submit applications by specific deadlines. During the meeting, a number of questions were raised regarding who is eligible to apply for funding. Staff clarified that a state agency could apply for and receive a large grant and then award sub-grants to local school districts, municipalities, or other entities that have the on-the-ground expertise and need the funding. The most immediate need is for Idaho DEQ to understand what projects are out there so they can begin putting together the right coalitions to fund them once the program gets to the Implementation Phase.
Individuals and organizations can get involved and stay informed about the Gem State Air Quality Initiative by subscribing to updates and emailing questions to GSAQI@deq.idaho.gov.
The Gem State Air Quality Initiative presents an opportunity for Idaho to make substantial progress in creating a cleaner and healthier environment, especially in rural communities. The more Idahoans get involved, the more likely it is that the CPRG initiative will have a lasting positive impact on the state’s air quality, economy, and overall well-being.