Commitment Builds on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act Investments to Bring Nature Benefits to More Communities
As part of the President’s America the Beautiful initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration celebrated the signing of the “United States Government Interagency Memorandum of Understanding on Promoting Equitable Access to Nature in Nature- Deprived Communities” by 10 Federal departments and agencies. This effort focuses on strengthening investments in communities who have been locked out of the benefits nature provides to ensure all Americans can benefit from safe parks, natural areas, and waterways where they live, work, and play by expanding access to local parks, tree canopy cover, conservation areas, open space and water-based recreation, public gardens, beaches, and waterways, which the memorandum identifies as “parks and green and blue spaces.”
Today, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, and Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Michael D. Smith will hold an event at the Benning Stoddert Recreation Center in Washington, DC to celebrate the signing of the memorandum to improve access to parks and green and blue spaces in areas that have historically not been afforded the benefits from these spaces. They will be joined by Federal and community leaders for a roundtable discussion on strategies moving forward to accomplish the goals set forth in the agreement, followed by a tree planting event.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) will convene the newly formed interagency group, named the Nature in Communities Committee, with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, AmeriCorps, and the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Army, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Homeland Security. These Federal departments and agencies have committed to collaborate with and learn from each other, and support local leaders’ efforts to improve access to nature and create, expand, steward, and conserve natural spaces for all Americans.
The Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful Report, issued in May 2021 consistent with the President’s Executive Order 14008, highlighted a need for Federal agencies to place a greater focus on supporting nature-deprived communities that have disproportionately less access to nature’s public health and climate benefits, including the benefits that nature can provide in mitigating extreme heat and flooding. The report noted that the burdens associated with a lack of access to nature do not fall evenly on all people, and that an estimated 100 million Americans do not have an accessible park within a ten-minute walk of their homes. The Nature in Communities Committee will focus on strategies that help alleviate the burdens of legacy pollution and growing impacts of climate change while also supporting local economies.
More than 30 existing Federal programs can be deployed to support locally-led park system planning and safety, public transit improvements, planting of public trees and gardens, schoolyard greening, expansion of water access, educational programing, and jobs that promote safe, welcoming outdoor experiences. Collaboration under the agreement will knit together existing programs, partnerships, and coalitions, allowing Federal, State, Tribal, Territorial, local, and private entities to find synergies and coordinate across regions and in communities. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act will also supercharge these efforts with more than $12.4 billion in funds that can be accessed by nature-deprived communities to promote access to parks and green and blue spaces such as acquiring new park space, planting and caring for more trees, improving neighborhood access and equity, reducing urban heat islands, and expanding natural and nature-based infrastructure across the country.
Together, these investments will advance President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which will deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities. In total, hundreds of Federal programs, including those established or bolstered by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, represent historic investments that are being reimagined and transformed to meet the Justice40 goal and maximize benefits to disadvantaged communities.
The Nature in Communities Committee will hold its first meeting before the end of the year and work on establishing a framework for implementation that will result in greater access to nature and its benefits for nature-deprived communities. The Committee will achieve these outcomes through existing programs and technical information.
The Administration’s efforts will build on and broaden existing Federal programs and initiatives such as:
- Urban Waters Federal Partnership: This existing partnership among Federal agencies — led by the Environmental Protection Agency — helps to reconnect overburdened or economically distressed communities with their waterways by improving coordination and collaboration with community-led revitalization efforts and promote their economic, environmental, and social benefits. Currently in 20 communities, the partnership plans to double that number, expand its Learning Network and utilize U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Matching Funds, which are designated by Congress and can be used for water quality projects in any Urban Waters locations.
- Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership: This program, administered by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, was established in 2014 and funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It is a nationally competitive program targeting grant assistance to help economically disadvantaged urban communities acquire and/or create, or substantially renovate, public parks and other outdoor recreation spaces. In July, the Department of the Interior announced that $192 million will be distributed to local communities through the program.
- AmeriCorps National Service: Through its many programs, AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and partners support nature-deprived communities by creating and maintaining city parks and greenspaces, improving stormwater management, and maintaining urban farms to increase economic opportunity. The agency also works with state and local partners help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
- Urban Wildlife Conservation Program Partnerships: This program of the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improves lives by expanding access to green space, education, and outdoor recreation for Americans living in and around cities. With more than 100 national wildlife refuges located within 25 miles of urban areas, the program was created to improve access to nature for Americans who live in or near cities. The program also fosters long-term partnerships with historically marginalized communities to address racial inequality in conservation.
- Urban and Community Forestry Program: By working with State partners and community tree groups, this USDA Forest Service program invests from the ground up in communities, improving more than 140 million acres of urban and community forest across the United States. It is a technical, financial, and educational assistance program, delivering nature-based solutions to ensure a resilient and equitable tree canopy where more than 84% of Americans live. The Urban and Community Forestry Program received $1.5 billion in the Inflation Reduction Act.
- People’s Garden Initiative: People’s gardens across the country grow fresh, healthy food; support resilient, local food systems; teach people how to garden using conservation practices; nurture habitat for pollinators and wildlife; and create greenspace for neighbors. In addition to the garden at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., there are 17 other flagship gardens located in urban communities nationwide.
- America the Beautiful Challenge Grants: Intended to streamline grant funding opportunities for new conservation and restoration projects around the U.S., the America the Beautiful Challenge is anchored by an initial commitment of $440 million of Federal resources over the next five years, including $375 million from the Interior Department in Ecosystem Restoration funds provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The challenge enables applicants to conceive and develop large-scale projects that address shared funder priorities and span public and private lands. Among other focal areas, the program seeks to fund projects that expand access to the outdoors, particularly in underserved communities.
- Mitigating Heat Across the Nation: The Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) works through the interagency National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) to support community-based urban heat mapping campaigns to identify opportunities where parks and green and blue spaces can mitigate heat. Through NOAA’s heat equity pilots and the new HEAT.gov, NIHHIS also supports community use of heat information to develop future heat scenarios and table-top exercises for equitable heat resilience planning, and applied climate research to generate evidence for additional actions to mitigate heat such as cool surfaces, home energy efficiency, and other local policies and programs. The Inflation Reduction Act provided $50 million for NOAA to administer climate research grants to address climate challenges such as impacts of extreme events, including related to heat. This research will provide the science that Americans need to understand how, where, and when Earth’s conditions are changing.
- Community Development Block Grants: The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides annual Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop viable urban communities by providing housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons. Block grants have been used to fund construction and restoration of public facilities like community centers, parks, and playgrounds in underserved neighborhoods, and to hire local community organizers to make it happen.
- Advancing Coastal Resilience and Access: NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management (OCM) works with a variety of partners, from all sectors, to deliver the products, services, and programs most needed by the nation’s coastal communities. Among other efforts, OCM administers coastal zone management grants to fund projects that increase the number of acres of coastal wetlands, corals, and natural shorelines protected and restored; decrease economic losses from the impacts of coastal hazards; and deliver increased support for communities most vulnerable to climate impacts, including those which have historically been underserved and often lack access to resources. OCM also oversees the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which is a network of 30 protected areas that contribute local science-based training, education, and outreach programs, and provides unique recreational opportunities for nearby communities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $1.47 billion for NOAA to invest in high-impact natural infrastructure projects that build coastal resilience, create jobs, store carbon, and restore habitat. The Inflation Reduction Act provided $2.6 billion for NOAA to assist coastal states, the District of Columbia, Tribal Governments, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and institutions of higher education to become more prepared and resilient to changes in climate.
- Recreational Trails Program: The U.S. Department of Transportation implements the Recreational Trails Program to provide funds to States develop and maintain recreational trails and trail related facilities. These funds are provided as part of the Transportation Alternatives which support pedestrian and bike infrastructure, recreational trails, safe routes to school. The Transportation Alternatives program will receive $6.79 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
- Modernization of Recreation Facilities: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provides thousands of opportunities for outdoor recreation at its many lake and river projects. Nearly 90% of these lakes and rivers are within 50 miles of major cities, and offer facilities and multiuse bike trails that are accessible to all. The USACE is working to modernize these recreation facilities and improve access and educational programming to enhance outdoor recreation experiences across the United States.
- Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities: The Federal Emergency Management Agency initiative to build resilient infrastructure and communities (BRIC) supports states, Tribes, Territories, and local communities as they undertake hazard mitigation projects, reducing the risks they face from disasters and natural hazards like wind storms and floods. The BRIC program supports communities through capability- and capacity-building, including the direct provision of technical assistance to disadvantaged communities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $1 billion to the BRIC program.
Under the new interagency agreement, projects of all scales will be supported through interagency prioritization, coordination, and investment of resources in nature-deprived communities around the Nation.
The signing of the memorandum of understanding on promoting equitable access to nature comes after the Biden-Harris Administration recently launched the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR), an interagency effort across four departments focused on outdoor opportunities. The signing of this new memorandum will leverage that work and strengthen local investment, capacity, and commitment to improve access to parks and green and blue spaces for nature-deprived communities, and to get residents outdoors, side-by-side with Federal partners.