Congressional Briefing Highlights Policy Solutions as Extreme Heat Season Begins 

WASHINGTON, D.C  (May 30, 2024) – Members of Congress and leaders of environmental and climate justice nonprofit organizations are calling for additional Congressional action to address the life-threatening challenge of extreme heat events across the United States. Thousands of Americans suffer heat-related deaths every year; in 2023, 645 people in Maricopa County, AZ alone died from heat-related illnesses.   

With the summer’s extreme heat season approaching, U.S. Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) convened a panel of leading nonprofits to raise awareness of the significant threat posed by extreme heat and its disparate impact on communities of color and disadvantaged communities.  

Neighborhoods with the lowest poverty rates have double the tree cover per person and are 6 degrees cooler than neighborhoods with the highest. Neighborhoods with the fewest residents of color have four times more tree cover per person and are 13 degrees cooler than neighborhoods with the most. 

The briefing brought together leading environmental organizations and advocates to push for comprehensive legislation that invests in trees and empowers a whole-of-government approach to protecting communities from extreme heat. The briefing featured remarks from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Jad Daley, President & Chief Executive Officer of American Forests; Dr. Jeremy Hoffman,  Director of Climate Justice and Impact, Groundwork USA; Dr. Hanna Haamdi, Vice Chair of the Board, Children & Nature Network; Masavi Perea,Coalitions & Trainings Director, Chispa AZ/League of Conservation Voters, Joan Kato, Colaborativo40 Campaign Director, GreenLatinos, and Joel Pannell, American Forests’ Vice President of Urban Forest Policy.   

“It’s not an issue that just affects traditionally hot places, or that we can only talk about from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It’s an issue that we’ve got to talk about 12 months a year,” said Joel Pannell, American Forests’ Vice President of Urban Forest Policy. “We need to continue to elevate this issue as a priority policy issue. We need to continue to elevate it as a kitchen table issue. We need every agency at the table partnering with communities and prioritizing not just extreme heat mitigation, but prioritizing workforce development, youth engagement, all of the different factors that we see.” 

Advocates encouraged Congress to take up and pass several key pieces of legislation that would address the challenge and accelerate action onTree Equity in communities across the nation, including:  

  • Stay Cool Act (HR 4314)– Creates grant programs to develop and improve tree canopy and high quality green spaces, to construct cooling features, to check in on seniors during extreme heat events, and for community resilience and cooling centers. Directs relevant agencies to study, report, and address impacts of extreme heat to save lives. 
  • Saving Hazardous and Declining Environments Act (SHADE Act) (HR 4817)– Creates a grant program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  to plant trees in formerly redlined and low-income areas.   
  • Trees for Residential Energy and  Economic Savings Act (TREES ACT) (HR 6348)– Bipartisan bill creates a cost-share grant program at the U.S. Department of Energy to help homeowners lower energy costs, increase tree canopy in underserved communities, and help mitigate the effects of climate change through residential tree planting.   
  • Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act  (HR 2945)– Creates grant programs for the implementation, construction, or maintenance of tree planting, green roofs, shade structures, cooling centers, and community gardens, as well as outreach to the community and education efforts. 
  • Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act (HR 4953)– Creates a community heat resilience program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) Interagency Committee.  The program would provide financial assistance for urban forestry and other community projects that reduce exposure to extreme heat. 

“We as legislators and as advocates have a responsibility to this generation, to the next generation and to our planet,” said Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman. “It is vitally important that we stand up for those who don’t think that they have a loud enough voice without our help. As long as we can work together with advocates like you, and as long as we can educate larger communities on the importance of this, these bills get echoed louder and louder and louder until they become a reality in our communities.”  

The pieces of legislation supported by advocates would build on recent actions to invest in creating more tree cover in communities across the country. In September of 2023, utilizing funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, the USDA Forest Service awarded more than $1 billion in competitive grants to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and improve access to nature in cities, towns and suburbs where more than 84% of Americans live, work and play. However, more funds are needed to ensure that public-private partnerships can continue to thrive and achieve their goals of planting millions of trees across the country. The demand for the IRA awards was over six times the available funding. 

There is a robust network being built to help implement these policies that can be further activated if Congress acts to make additional investments in Tree Equity. For example, American Forests, GreenLatinos and Groundwork USA have recently formed the Tree Equity Alliance, alongside The 1890 Foundation. This partnership aims to create a multi-sector voice around Tree Equity as an issue that transcends climate justice, transportation, economic opportunity and other issue areas, by leveraging expertise in urban greening, addressing environmental injustice, and training youth and community advocates. The Alliance partners provide a range of support directly to cities, nonprofits and community groups committed to Tree Equity as part of a collective impact model, from technical assistance to training to federal funding.  

More information about the threat posed by extreme heat and solutions can be found at American Forests’ National Extreme Heat Media Resource Hub. 


About American Forests 

American Forests is the first national nonprofit conservation organization created in the U.S. Since its founding in 1875, the organization has been the pathfinders for the forest conservation movement. Its mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to large natural landscapes, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water and wildlife. The organization advances its mission through forestry, innovation, place-based partnerships to plant and restore forests, and movement building. For more information visit: 

Media Contacts: 

Alexis Keith, The Abbi Agency 

Lee Poston, American Forests