Rep. Juan Vargas
Rep. Juan Vargas explains the $100 billion available for environmental and energy projects. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego State University has opened an interdisciplinary center with $10 million in funding to help rural and underserved communities in four states obtain federal grants for environmental and clean energy projects.

The Center for Community Energy and Environmental Justice was announced Tuesday at a press conference in National City, one of the region’s typically underserved communities.

“At SDSU, we have a long tradition of scholarship in service to our community and the trans-border region,” said President Adela de la Torre, who called environmental justice “essential for a sustainable future.”

Also speaking at the announcement were Rep. Scott Peters and Rep. Juan Vargas, who touted the $100 billion available from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy under a series of programs approved during the Biden administration.

“It really is a command from the top to embrace environmental justice,” said Vargas, who represents National City and nearby communities like Barrio Logan and Logan Heights that stand to benefit.

The new center, which will eventually have a home in the university’s planned Mission Valley campus, will help rural, tribal, inner-city and other underserved communities in California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Pacific island territories compete for grants.

Professor Rebecca Lewison, an ecologist in the Biology Department, said her team at the new center will work with organizations across this region to provide technical assistance with the complicated process of applying for federal grants.

“It’s a huge footprint,” she said. “That’s why our partners are so important.”

The center’s mission has been described as “helping community organizations by providing technical assistance that includes: conducting environmental and energy justice needs assessment and analyses, facilitating navigation of government websites, identifying grant opportunities, increasing grant getting and administration capacity, supporting participation in decision-making (and) training community champions.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.