Grant helps NAU contribute to job creation, environmental cleanup

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Arizona’s environmental and employment outlooks both received a boost this week with Northern Arizona University’s announcement of a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

With the funding, NAU’s Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals will train 36 students for jobs related to cleaning up abandoned uranium mines. The university is targeting unemployed residents of the Navajo Nation, particularly those living in communities impacted by uranium mining.

“Contributing to environmental workforce development is an important way for NAU to fulfill its mission to the state,” said NAU President John Haeger. “This grant offers a great opportunity for our ITEP program, in partnership with the Navajo Nation, to play a critical role in addressing the challenges of sustainability and career preparation.“

The EPA selected 16 grantees for a total award of $3.2 million through the agency’s Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training program. The grants support local work to recruit, train and place unemployed individuals in jobs that address environmental challenges in their communities.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said he was pleased with the award, which resulted from a renewed effort after an unsuccessful application last year.

“We have several ongoing cleanup projects and we have a great opportunity to help our own Navajo people get the jobs at these cleanup projects,” Shelly said. “Partnering with NAU’s Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, we will provide skilled Navajo workers with the additional training to work on project sites cleaning up radioactive and hazardous materials, and we will provide the specialized training to ensure their safety.”

According to the EPA, more than 11,000 Americans have completed environmental workforce development and job training, of which more than 8,000 obtained jobs in the environmental field with an average starting hourly wage of $14.12.