July 20, 2023

Reps. Watson Coleman, Gallego Introduce The SHADE Act To Combat Rising Temperatures In Cities

Bill Would Provide Resources For Cities To Plant Shade Trees in Formerly Redlined and Overburdened Communities Experiencing Extreme Heat

Washington, D.C. (July 20, 2023) - Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-03) introduced the Saving Hazardous and Declining Environments Act (SHADE Act). This legislation would create a grant program under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to plant trees in formerly redlined districts and other overburdened communities. This summer, the U.S. has seen historic and sustained extreme heat, with severe temperatures posing a growing threat as climate change worsens.

Redlining, a discriminatory housing policy developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), was designed to deny resources to predominately minority neighborhoods and halt investments in neighborhoods deemed “hazardous” and “declining.” Through this process the HOLC identified communities which were eligible for investments and those which were not. Ultimately, this led to racial profiling and the refusal of insurance or home loans, on the basis of race. While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited redlining, the deleterious effects of redlining are apparent today. A recent study examined 108 urban areas in the United States and found that almost all formerly redlined urban areas experienced higher land surface temperatures than non-redlined areas, due to reduced tree cover and increased asphalt or concrete surfaces. Redlined areas are on average 4.68°F warmer than in non-redlined areas, with discrepancies as high as 12.6 °F having been measured between some neighborhoods.  

“For decades minority communities in the United States were explicitly discriminated against through redlining,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “Significant evidence has shown the negative environmental effects of redlining and demonstrates the crucial need for proactive efforts to combat rising temperatures in urban areas. The SHADE Act bill would help combat the intentionally racist and highly problematic housing policies which impact communities to this day.”

“With communities across the United States experiencing record heat waves, federal leaders must do what we can to combat these rising temperatures,” said Rep. Gallego. “There’s no one solution to reducing the impacts of extreme heat, but an immediate first step is getting shade to our neighborhoods, parks, and community centers. That’s why I’m proud to co-lead the SHADE Act.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the urban heat island effect can cause some parts of cities to be up to 20 degrees hotter than nearby neighborhoods with more trees. Trees have a significant impact on decreasing land surface temperatures, as they provide direct shade, decrease surrounding air temperatures through evapotranspiration, and reduce the amount of solar radiation hitting heat-absorbing surfaces like buildings and roads which release heat back into neighborhoods. Studies estimate that living in high ambient temperatures is the cause of 12,000 avoidable premature deaths per year in the U.S. In addition, research indicates that living in areas of excessive heat, with limited green space, can negatively impact a person’s mental health.  

“The recent extreme heat across the United States only highlights the importance of the SHADE Act. This legislation provides a path forward to bring critical relief to communities that have been affected by historic inequity, creating a tree-planting program that will both lower temperature and literally save lives,” said Allison McLeod, Senior Public Policy Director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Studies estimate that living in high ambient temperatures is the cause of 12,000 avoidable premature deaths per year in the U.S. In addition, research indicates that living in areas of excessive heat, with limited green space, can negatively impact a person’s mental health. That’s why the SHADE ACT is so important, and we commend Congresswoman Watson Coleman for championing policies to rectify these environmental injustices.”

"The SHADE Act would not only provide critical resources for tree equity in the communities with the highest need," said Groundwork USA CEO Heather McMann. "It would also ensure that residents have a voice in deciding where these investments can have the greatest impact. We are thrilled to offer our endorsement of the SHADE Act."

“Decades of racist redlining policies have left too many neighborhoods of color disproportionately vulnerable to deadly urban heat waves,” said Earthjustice Vice President of Policy and Legislation Raul Garcia. “The SHADE Act will help remedy these discriminatory practices by planting trees in these neighborhoods to lower temperatures and save lives. With climate change already exacerbating heat waves, we thank Rep. Watson Coleman for introducing this bill and protecting our communities.”

“With wave after wave of excruciating heat causing longer, hotter summers, communities with disparate tree cover are suffering the most,” said Joel Pannell, Vice President of Urban Forest Policy at American Forests. “Through the SHADE Act, our most vulnerable neighborhoods will receive the critical infrastructure trees provide, all while improving health, combating climate change, cooling our communities, and providing myriad economic benefits. Tree Equity saves lives, and we applaud Rep. Watson Coleman for introducing this timely legislation to help deliver Tree Equity across the country.”

A Washington Post analysis of data provided by the nonprofit First Street Foundation estimated that the average number of Americans experiencing at least three consecutive days of temperatures 100 degrees or higher each year will climb from 46 percent today to 63 percent over the next 30 years. 

The SHADE Act will:  

  • Create a grant program under the Department of Housing and Urban Development to plant trees in formerly redlined areas graded “hazardous” and “definitely declining” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation 
  • Make funds available to overburdened areas that either 35% or more households qualify as low income, 40% or more of residents identify as minority or as members of a tribal community, or 40% or more of households are limited English proficiency  
  • Appropriate $50,000,000 per fiscal year from 2024 through 2034 for the design, planting, monitoring, and maintenance of the trees 

The SHADE Act is cosponsored by Reps. Ruben Gallego (AZ-03), Donald Beyer (VA-08), Earl  Blumenauer (OR-03), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Cori Bush (MO-01), Troy Carter (LA-02), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Judy Chu (CA-28), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Nannette Diaz Barragan (CA-44), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Doris Matsui (CA-07), Grace Meng (NY-06), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Frank Pallone (NJ-07), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), John Sarbanes (MD-03), Melanie Sansbury (NM-01), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Dina Titus (NV-01), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Frederica Wilson (FL-24) 

The SHADE Act has been endorsed by Groundwork USA, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, and American Forests. 

The SHADE Act can be read here.