April 28, 2023

Gallego, Sen. Brown and Rep. Watson Coleman Introduce Bill to Combat Excess Urban Heat

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-03), along with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) introduced the Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act of 2023. The bill creates a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide funding to combat the causes and effects of excess urban heat and heat islands.

“Phoenix summers are getting hotter and hotter, and as temperatures rise, time spent outdoors only gets more dangerous,” said Rep. Gallego. “In urban areas, the effects of these rising temperatures is compounded by a lack of shade and miles of heat-absorbing concrete. And too often, it is our lower-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by this extreme urban heat. That is why I am proud to introduce this bill to address this deadly issue, keep Phoenix cooler, and ensure the hardest hit communities are prioritized.”

“Trees are vital to our communities. Having more trees in your neighborhood improves air quality, supports mental and physical health, lowers energy costs, and even helps manage stormwater and prevent flooding,” said Sen. Brown. “The cleaner air and lower utility bills that comes with trees shouldn’t be an asset just for the wealthy and the privileged. Every Ohio child should be able to know the joy of climbing a tree, or sitting in the shade with a good book.”

“For Americans living in urban areas with high temperatures, unexpected heat emergencies are life-threatening natural disasters only made worse by climate change,” Rep. Watson Coleman said. “Despite being the deadliest weather-related incidents, excess heat and rising surface temperatures do not receive adequate attention or response on the level of tornadoes or hurricanes. Heat leads to countless avoidable, premature deaths and disproportionally impacts communities of color and low income communities – populations that are already working with limited resources. I am proud to have worked alongside Rep. Gallego on his Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act to address the deadly rising temperatures in urban areas and give threatened communities the tools to combat and respond to excess heat.”

Excess urban heat is a phenomenon in urban areas caused by several manmade factors including lower tree coverage, high building density, and a greater presence of heat-absorbing surfaces like sidewalks and roadways. In addition to being a public health threat, excess urban heat leads to increased air and water pollution as well as higher roadway maintenance, energy, and healthcare costs.

Excess urban heat is felt in metropolitan areas across the U.S. In 2022, 425 deaths were linked to heat in Maricopa County alone – a 25% increase from the previous year.  

“As the impacts of extreme heat on health, safety, comfort and economic development continue to rise, there is an urgent need to invest in solutions at a scale and pace that matters,” Anna Bettis, Healthy Cities Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona said. “This bill will channel urgently needed resources to communities across the U.S. to invest in solutions to mitigate heat, and importantly, requires that a sizable portion of these funds to go communities disproportionately impacted by these challenges.”

“GreenLatinos wholeheartedly endorses Rep. Gallego’s forward-thinking Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act, which creates a crucial climate-responsive policy to mitigate impacts of excess urban heat effect,” Dr. Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Sustainable Communities Program Director at GreenLatinos said. “Latinos are 21% more likely than the white population to live in areas that are urban heat islands. We are particularly enthused by the fact that this legislation designates at least fifty percent of funding will fund projects in low-income and environmental justice communities. As heat waves become longer and more frequent, we urgently need solutions that communities can implement now to mitigate growing challenges associated with excess urban heat; this bill achieves exactly that.”

“The Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown includes nature-based solutions which are proven methods to lower temperatures–shade trees, green roofs and porous surfaces for example. The difference between a cooler tree-lined street and one that bakes in the sun is investment–this bill invests where it’s most needed. Extreme heat events are increasing and urban areas in Ohio and across the country need this relief.  The American Society of Landscape Architects supports this bill,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO, American Society of Landscape Architects.

"Extreme heat is the deadliest natural disaster, killing more people than hurricanes and tornadoes combined.  It also disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities, largely due to a lack of tree canopy," said Joel Pannell, American Forests Vice President of Urban Forests Policy.  Urban trees are life-saving infrastructure.  This urgently needed legislation will give HUD a prominent role in protecting communities from the increasing threats of climate change while empowering local decision-making and creating jobs."

The Act allows entities such as local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, Tribal governments, and nonprofits to apply for funding to implement efforts to help prevent and offset the effects of excess urban heat. Some examples of these mitigation efforts include cool pavements, cool roofs, tree planting and maintenance, green roofs, bus stop covers, cooling centers, and local heat mitigation education efforts.  

Studies have shown the impact of excess urban heat disproportionally affects lower-income communities and communities of color. To address this, the Act outlines that at least 75% of funding shall be awarded to projects in low-income and environmental justice communities.

The Act authorizes $30 million for the program each year for Fiscal Years 2023-2030. To ensure the effectiveness of the grant program, HUD will establish an oversight board to select grant recipients and review the yearly progress of the grantees. Additionally, the oversight board will advise entities in coordination with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services, non-profits with leadership in this area, and relevant academic experts.

You can view the full text of the legislation here.