Excessive heat is now the #1 weather-related killer in the United States. When President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—the most comprehensive climate legislation ever passed by Congress—on August 16, 2022, he took a major step towards reducing these deaths.
One important outcome of the IRA funding that hasn’t received much press is the way it will boost the resilience of many cities by restoring urban forests and expanding urban tree canopies.
In one fell swoop, air quality will be improved, carbon will be sequestered 9sto help restore our climate0 and many lives will be saved via the trees’ cooling effect on urban ‘heat islands”.
The IRA allocates $1.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. This monumental bill will help bring cooling and pollution-fighting urban tree cover to all corners of the country, maximizing the multifold benefits of trees in combating climate change.
“Extreme heat is a life or death issue in our cities, thanks to climate change,” said Jad Daley, American Forests‘ president and chief executive officer.
“This legislation gets the forestry details right and will have lasting impacts as it helps cities protect their residents from extreme heat,” he added.
Through American Forests’ Tree Equity Score, scientists and policy experts have found a map of trees in our communities is also a map of income and race, leaving millions of U.S. residents at risk from extreme heat and other climate effects.
The U.S. Forest Service works to address that disparity, already reaching over 7,500 communities each year through the Urban and Community Forestry program.
With the Inflation Reduction Act’s influx of needed funding for the program, as well as investments to assist with administration, the agency will be able to dramatically expand its impact, reaching more communities and providing greatly expanded grants and technical assistance for on-the-ground implementation.
“The Inflation Reduction Act will reconnect neighborhoods and invest in urban greening through tree planting and other efforts,” said Representative A. Donald McEachin.
“In every neighborhood, in every city, we will all benefit from making improvements that combat climate change and make our communities healthier, greener and more resilient. The Inflation Reduction Act will help accomplish just that and will have a substantial impact on people’s lives with every dollar, every job and every tree,” he continued.
This legislation maximizes the power of trees to cool our most vulnerable communities, which often suffer the most as climate change magnifies the severity and frequency of extreme heat.
“Planting trees improves air quality, reduces temperatures on hot days, and creates healthier neighborhoods,” said Senator Cory Booker.
“The urban and community forestry investments in the Inflation Reduction Act will empower communities, helping to get more people outside and under the life-saving shade of trees, all while storing more carbon, creating and supporting more jobs, and reducing energy consumption and costs for Americans,” he explained.
The legislation’s investments in the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program will scale up work going on on-the-ground across the country, getting funding directly to communities and local nonprofits.
By expanding urban tree canopy, the investments in the Inflation Reduction Act will advance equity in our neighborhoods while creating jobs and bolstering local economies across the nation.
“American Forests is not an organization that just cares about trees; we’re an organization that cares about how trees can serve people and about the impacts that those trees make,” added Daley. “This legislation, decades in the making, puts people first, creating healthier communities, jumpstarting careers and saving lives.”
The Inflation Reduction Act invests in forests as climate solutions comprehensively, not only by expanding the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, but by increasing wildfire risk reduction activities, creating incentives for historically disadvantaged private forestland owners who employ forest-climate solutions on their landscapes, and more.
“Forests by themselves cannot solve climate change – to be most effective, they require us actively maintaining, monitoring and managing the health of the trees and the communities they impact,” concluded Daley. “The Inflation Reduction Act delivers for Americans on both urban and rural landscapes, employing people and trees in the fight against climate change and contributing to healthier forests for us all.”
With robust forest-climate investments across both public and private lands, this legislation uses a whole-of-government approach to permanently transform America’s forests and communities for the better.