Congressman Seeks Shade Grants to Fight Urban Heat and Climate Change

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Two rows of new shade trees along Phoenix’s Baseline Road provide the kind of life-changing, life-saving infrastructure the nation should emulate, U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego said while visiting the site in the town’s Laveen village on Wednesday.

planted where they will shade the burning sidewalk between Cesar Chavez High School, a park, a busy bus stop and a library, the trees will reduce heat stress for thousands of people in a neighborhood that experts say received less than a third of the shade necessary to be on par with the wealthier parts of the city.

Gallego, D-Arizona, visited the site of what the city calls the first of its “cool hallways” program, then hosted a listening session with community and public health leaders.

“When we originally built this community, we built it around cars,” said Gallego, who previously lived in Laveen and has since moved to south Phoenix, another area with little shade along many streets. The parts of the city that housing discrimination shaped as Latino and black communities lack the shadow of wealthier, whiter historic neighborhoods.

Now these areas need investment, he said.

On Monday, Gallego and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman introduced a bill that would create a $30 million annual grant fund to mitigate urban heat through 2030. It could help communities and nonprofit organizations to plant and water trees, create shade structures, install cool reflective roofs and sidewalks, cover bus stops and open public cooling centers.

The cooling plans heat:Volunteers plant trees for a ‘cool new hallway’ in Phoenix

Few places in America need shade more than the Phoenix metro, where Maricopa County epidemiologist Jessica White told Gallego that at least 339 people have died of heat-related causes the last year. His office will present the final tally to county officials next week and is still investigating other possible deaths. About half of the victims were homeless.

Gallego said $30 million a year won’t solve the problem, but could energize partnerships like the one Phoenix formed with American Forests and contributing companies to plant the first cool corridor last weekend. The city plans to spend its own funds planting an additional nine miles of these corridors in parts of the city where shade is difficult.

“It definitely won’t go far enough,” Gallego said of his proposed federal grants. He said he picked a character he thought he could push through Congress. “The goal is primarily to create a pathway for the government to understand the importance of the shadow.”

The legislation says low-income census blocks across the United States have 15% less shade than other blocks, which are on average 1.5 degrees warmer and people of color in 97% of the most large urban areas experience the most intense heating from urban heat island effect, a name for the heating effect of concrete and pavement without shade or cooling vegetation.

April 20, 2022;  Phoenix, Arizona, USA;  Representative Ruben Gallego receives a tour of newly planted trees along Baseline Road from David Hondula, Director of Heat Response and Mitigation for the City of Phoenix, April 20, 2022, in Phoenix.

The bill, called the Excessive Urban Heat Mitigation Act, would direct at least half of any year’s funding to low-income areas or places deemed to be affected by environmental injustice.

“This kind of investment from the federal government would be transformational,” Aimee Esposito, executive director of nonprofit group Trees Matter, told The Republic in an email. Phoenix is ​​well positioned to capitalize on the grants because it has created and staffed a unique city office for urban heat mitigation. “Other regions will start to have higher extreme weather and learn from our region.”

The trees Phoenix and his partners have planted on Baseline will likely last, as they sit on the edge of a park where city gardeners are already watering the grass. Elsewhere, investing in shade may mean bringing in new water sources, which increases the cost.

“It’s not as simple as saying let’s plant trees,” Gallego said. In some places, it may make more sense to build shade structures.

The city is proposing to use federal funds available through last year’s federal pandemic relief program to support new urban foresters who can help neighbors expand and care for the tree canopy of the city in areas where it is currently lacking. While the city encourages the planting of desert- and drought-tolerant species, said heating officer David Hondula, trees should be considered a priority for the city’s water supply.

“Why do we conserve water?” Hondula wondered, if not to maintain a livable city. “It would be hard to imagine many uses of water that have greater value.”

Metro Phoenix alone will lose nearly $2.5 billion a year in economic output without action to cool the city and mitigate climate change, Anna Bettis of The Nature Conservancy told Gallego.

She leads TNC’s Healthy Cities program in Arizona, and he published a study modeling these costs Last year. While heat-related fatalities would account for a large portion of this cost, others would come from lost worker productivity outdoors or the need to crank up the air conditioner and burn more electricity.

Besides these costs, she said, teachers report that students coming in from the heat are like “wilted flowers” ​​and have difficulty learning.

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Join it at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @brandonloomis.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in the Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic’s environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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