By Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, and Caleb Raspler
Congress has passed and President Joseph Biden is expected to sign into law the U.S.’s most comprehensive response to the climate crisis to date — The Inflation Reduction Act. The legislation makes an historic investment of $369 billion to improve energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help communities adapt to climate impacts.
Importantly, the Act recognizes and funds landscape architecture approaches to address climate change — from active transportation projects like Complete Streets and recreational trails, to nature-based water infrastructure, community tree planting, ecosystem restoration, and more. Additionally, the legislation makes significant strides in addressing environmental and climate justice and ensuring underserved communities receive resources to adapt to a changing climate.
Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to lead these projects. With their community engagement skills, they are particularly suited to partner with underserved communities. The Act provides tremendous opportunities for landscape architects to work with all communities to plan and design a more resilient and low-carbon future.
Significant funding for programs and projects traditionally led by landscape architects include:
ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE
Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program: $3 billion to improve walkability, safety, and affordable transportation access through projects that are context-sensitive.
The program provides funding to:
- Build or improve complete streets, multi-use trails, regional greenways, active transportation networks and spines or provide affordable access to essential destinations, public spaces, transportation links and hubs.
- Remove high-speed and other transportation projects and facilities that are barriers to connectivity within communities.
- Remove transportation projects and facilities that are a source of air pollution, noise pollution, stormwater, or other burdens in underserved communities. These projects may include noise barriers to reduce impacts resulting from a facility, along with technologies, infrastructure, and activities to reduce surface transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. Solutions can include natural infrastructure, permeable, or porous pavement, or protective features to reduce or manage stormwater run-off; heat island mitigation projects in rights of way; safety improvements for vulnerable road users; and planning and capacity building activities in disadvantaged or underserved communities.
Low Carbon Transportation Materials Grants: $2 billion to incentivize the use of construction materials that have substantially lower levels of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in landscape architecture projects, including reimbursements.
NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
$250 million for conservation, protection, and resilience projects on National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
$250 million for conservation, ecosystem, and habitat restoration projects on NPS and BLM lands.
$200 million for NPS deferred maintenance projects.
$500 million to hire NPS personnel.
$250 million to the Fish and Wildlife Service for wildlife recovery and to rebuild and restore units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
NATIONAL AND COMMUNITY FORESTRY
$200 million for vegetation management projects in the National Forest System.
$1.5 billion for competitive grants through the Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program for tree planting and related activities.
$550 million for planning, designing, or constructing water projects with the primary purpose of providing domestic water supplies to underserved communities or households that do not have reliable access to domestic water supplies in a state or territory.
$4 billion for grants, contracts, or financial assistance to states impacted by drought, with priority given to the Colorado River Basin and other basins experiencing comparable levels of long-term drought.
$15 million to provide technical assistance for climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience to Insular Areas – U.S. territories.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $2.6 billion for grants, technical assistance, and cooperative agreements that enable coastal communities to prepare for extreme storms and other changing climate conditions. This includes projects to support natural resources that sustain coastal and marine resource dependent communities and assessments of marine fishery and marine mammal stocks.
$50 million for competitive grants to fund climate research related to weather, ocean, coastal, and atmospheric processes and conditions and impacts to marine species and coastal habitat.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
$3 billion in competitive grants to address clean air and climate pollution in underserved communities.
$33 million to collect data and track disproportionate burdens of pollution and climate change on environmental justice communities.
$250 million for the General Services Administration to convert facilities to high performing buildings.
$2.1 billion to purchase low carbon materials.
$975 million for emerging and sustainable technologies and related sustainability programs.
$20 million for hiring new personnel to conduct more efficient, accurate, and timely reviews for planning, permitting and approval processes.
Department of Agriculture: $19.4 billion to invest in climate-smart agriculture practices and land interests that promote soil carbon improvements and carbon sequestration.
Department of Energy: $115 million for the hiring and training of personnel, the development of programmatic environmental documents, the procurement of technical or scientific services for environmental reviews, the development of environmental data or information systems, stakeholder and community engagement, and the purchase of new equipment for environmental analysis to facilitate timely and efficient environmental reviews and authorizations.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: $837.5 million to improve energy or water efficiency or the climate resilience of affordable housing.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF): The fund will help efficiently finance projects, including landscape architecture projects, to reduce emissions through active transportation, ecosystem restoration, energy and water efficiency, and climate-smart agriculture. The fund will receive $27 billion total, with $8 billion earmarked for low-income or otherwise underserved communities. Funds will flow through regional, state, local, and tribal green banks. And the GGRF will provide the institutional foundation for a National Climate Bank Act.
Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, Esq., is director of federal government affairs, and Caleb Raspler, Esq., is manager of federal government affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).