Washington, DC (December 19, 2007)- President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Energy Bill) into law, along with key provisions which create new efficiency standards for an array of consumer products from light bulbs to new buildings. There are several opportunities of interest to ACT members.
1. Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants
The act authorizes a new block grant program for cities which would provide up to $2 billion a year for 5 years. The program would provide grants to cities, counties, and states for innovative practices to achieve greater energy efficiency and lower energy use.
According to US Conference of Mayors President Douglas Palmer, the program will “support community-based, grass-roots actions to reduce our over-dependence on foreign energy sources and further ongoing local climate protection efforts.” At last week’s meeting of the US Conference of Mayors Community Trees Task Force, Mayor Heather Fargo of Sacramento noted that the new block grant program will be an important source of support to cities to pursue urban forest goals.
Among the eligible uses for the funds are: public education efforts to engage residents in energy savings measures, grants to nonprofit organizations to retrofit buildings to reduce energy use, and other measures that increase energy efficiency and decrease energy consumption.
Like community development block grants, energy block grants will be distributed based on census data, and there will typically be a state-led or city-led process to prioritize the use of the funds. So if you want trees to be part of the picture for funding, you need to begin the conversation now with city and state officials to show how the strategic planting of shade trees can help your community lower its energy consumption. Academic studies have documented the cooling benefits shade trees provide. Utility programs like “Sacramento Shade” and others provide established working models that other cities can replicate.
The Bush Administration will release its 2009 budget on February 4th. The US Conference of Mayors and others will be working diligently to secure full funding for the program in Congress. There is no question that there will be a lot of money flowing to cities in the next five years for this program – the challenge for urban forestry advocates is to correctly position the issue and persuade city leaders that trees are a smart, strategic tool to achieve energy conservation goals.
Like other block grants, funds will be distributed based on population, and there is typically a state-led or city-led process to prioritize the use of the funds. So if you want trees to be part of the picture for funding, you need to get in on the conversation now that will shape how these funds will get used in your state/locality. Talk about trees as an energy savings measure and an allowable expenditure for energy block grant funds. Read the legislation.
2. Environmental Protection Agency Demonstration Grant Program for Local Governments
This section establishes a grant program to local governments to deploy cost-effective practices (vegetation is listed as a cost-effective practice) to achieve operational savings in local government buildings. The maximum grant is $1,000,000. Awardees must achieve a 40 percent cost savings in energy as a result of implementation of practices. The match requirement is 60:40 (local:federal), but the Administrator may waive the match under certain circumstances. The opportunity here is that vegetation is explicitly listed as an approved measure. The caveat is that funds are for activities that would not otherwise happen. So, if you’re requesting funds for a retrofit or construction of a government building and you want some of the money for trees, then you’d need to show that the locality would otherwise not have planned to plant any trees, which, given our progress with ordinances, might be somewhat unlikely with a new government building. However, funds could help your local government install a greenroof, for instance. Read the legislation.
3. Green Jobs Act
This section creates $50 million for workforce training for the new “green collar” workforce of the future. The idea is to update traditional workforce development workforce programs to train at-risk/underemployed people in skills like solar panel installation and green roof installation. ACT members could possibly tap some of these funds to create or sustain arborist training programs like those that Trees New York and Tree Trust operate, where people are trained in marketable green skills that can help get them out of poverty. Read the legislation.
4. National Media Campaign for Energy
This section creates $5 million a year for an advertising campaign around energy conservation, presumably managed by the Department of Energy. National urban forestry experts, such as the US Forest Service, may want to participate in this effort to highlight the role of trees and vegetation in energy conservation. Read the legislation
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