On the occasion of today’s signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law, American Forests President and Chief Executive Officer Jad Daley issued the following statement.
Today, President Biden delivered $8.6 billion for our most powerful nature-based infrastructure to address climate change: our forests. This historic investment within the congressional bipartisan infrastructure bill recognizes that our forests are not only a potent sponge for natural carbon capture, sequestering more than 15 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, but also a critical form of protection against climate change threats such as extreme heat and flooding. Even better, investing in forests protects and enhances other natural amenities such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, recreation and forest products.
In addition to President Biden, his cabinet, and congressional leadership, tremendous credit is due for the bipartisan leaders who have championed these vital provisions. This includes particular leadership from Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), who championed the REPLANT Act.
Make no mistake, this is one of the most significant forest investments in our nation’s history. Today’s signing will deliver more than $5 billion for wildfire resilience, helping to address a wildfire crisis, fueled by climate change, that is now burning twice as many acres each year in the western U.S., with more acres burned so intensely that they cannot recover without intensive repair and reforestation.
That’s why it is essential that this bill also includes billions for reforestation, largely through the REPLANT Act, which American Forests has helped to champion over many years. The REPLANT Act updates the federal Reforestation Trust Fund to ensure the U.S. Forest Service will have permanent and dedicated funding to reforest our 193 million acres of national forests after wildfire, as well as other damaging events like pest infestations and windstorms that are also becoming more common with climate change. Closing the current 4 million-acre reforestation backlog on our national forests, and keeping up into the future, will ensure these treasured public lands can continue to provide vital natural services such as water supply protection and carbon sequestration as well as prevent damaging mudslides and landslides that have increasingly been harming our roads and communities.
Lastly, this bill makes a big step toward Tree Equity and climate justice in our cities by establishing a new Department of Transportation Healthy Streets program to plant more urban trees and deploy cool surfaces to reduce urban heat islands and improve air quality in underserved neighborhoods. This program, championed by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), will save lives and save energy in our rapidly heating cities, where Duke University researchers have projected a ten-fold increase in heat related deaths this century, to 100,000 per year, with the worst impacts concentrated in lower income and BIPOC neighborhoods that suffer dramatically increased heat and air pollution due in part to systemic inequities of tree cover.
Taken together, these critically important forestry provisions bring this natural infrastructure win to every corner of America, and tens of thousands of good paying jobs, as well. American Forests is proud to have championed these measures alongside partner organizations in coalitions such as the Forest-Climate Working Group, Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition and U.S. Chapter of 1t.org. We are excited to now turn our energies to implementing these game-changing provisions with federal agencies and these many nonfederal partners, and we will continue our diligent efforts to secure the additional $30 billion for forests proposed through the Build Back Better Act. Taken together, this would represent the largest forest investment in our nation’s history and provide the opportunity to deliver the full suite of solutions our forests can provide.