Tree-Centric Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act

On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed H.R. 5376, the budget-reconciliation legislation commonly referred to as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA). The IRA, which is a slimmed-down version of Biden’s original Build Back Better economic and climate-change package, will spend $740 billion on climate, tax and healthcare policies.

The IRA was passed on a party-line basis in both the Senate and House. Congressional Democrats tout the bill as the most consequential piece of climate legislation ever passed by Congress, while Republicans argue the spending provisions will lead to increased taxes and cost of living for Americans.

While it will be some time before we can truly understand the full impact of the economic package, several billions of dollars for programs administered by the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency could impact the tree care industry, as discretionary language throughout the bill references tree planting and management as methods to resolve the challenges of extreme heat, wildfires and coastal management. These references demonstrate the value Congress is placing on the ability of trees to mitigate unfavorable environmental concerns.

Urban forestry

Under the new law, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Safety Organization will receive $1.893 billion to establish competitive grants, and several of these grants may be available to interested members of the tree care industry. For example, Section 60501 of the bill routinely mentions greenways, natural features and tree canopies. One grant outlined in the section provides entities engaged in improving walkability, safety and affordable-transportation access with funding to improve and develop regional greenways through the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program. Additionally, the same section provides funds to mitigate or remediate the negative impacts of surface transportation facilities (highways, bridges, rail infrastructure, etc.), such as via infrastructure improvement and the implementation of natural features, countering the production of air pollution, noise and stormwater.

The ability of trees to alleviate urban heat-island hot spots, like those often found at surface transportation facilities, may provide an opening for the tree care industry to utilize these grants. Furthermore, Section 60501 allows for the utilization of funds to address planning and capacity-building activities to identify, monitor or assess local and ambient air quality, emissions of transportation greenhouse gases, hot-spot areas of extreme heat or elevated air pollution, gaps in tree-canopy coverage and flood-prone transportation infrastructure.

Additionally, the Inflation Reduction Act provides funding to bolster urban forestry at the state and local levels. Section 23003 allocates $1.5 billion to state and private forestry conservation programs through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Act in the form of multiyear, programmatic, competitive grants for tree planting and related activities. Eligible recipients of the grant program include agencies and entities at the state and local government levels, alongside nonprofit organizations.

Historically, the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Act has recognized the importance of trees in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and encouraged residential and commercial property owners to maintain trees and expand forest cover on their property. The Act also promotes projects in urban and community settings that demonstrate the benefits of maintaining healthy tree canopies, including enhancing the technical skills and understanding of sound tree-maintenance and arboricultural practices, including but not limited to the cultivation of trees.

Wildfire prevention and forest resilience

The Environmental Protection Agency will receive $2.8 billion over four years to mitigate the impact of heat islands and air pollution through Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants. These grants aim to improve climate resiliency and adaptation to reduce wildfire risks.

Through four separate grant allocations, Section 23002 of the law provides $450 million to fund competitive grants for nonfederal forest landowners. Grant funding of $150 million will support landowners in implementing climate mitigation or forest-resilience practices. An additional $150 million is provided for the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act to support landowners in emerging markets participating in climate mitigation and forest resilience. Landowners of fewer than 2,500 acres will be eligible to apply for forest-resilience funding through a $100 million allocation. Lastly, grant funding of $50 million will be available to owners of private forest land to implement forestry practices that lead to measurable increases in carbon sequestration.

Section 23001 provides $1.8 billion to conduct hazardous-fuels reduction projects on National Forest System land within the wildland urban interface (WUI). The WUI spans more than 60,000 communities and is the transition zone between unoccupied land and human development, containing vegetative fuels that risk ignition. Further funding provides $200 million for vegetation-management projects that include the removal of vegetation, the use of prescribed fire and the restoration of aquatic habitats.

Next steps

The Inflation Reduction Act will have a significant impact on communities across the country and many businesses and industries, including the tree care industry. TCIA members should follow along as these programs and grants are developed, implemented and distributed. We will continue to monitor and keep you apprised of developments and programs as they are released.

Josh Leonard is a legislative assistant with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.

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