By Michelle Werts

Last week, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA) introduced a new act to Congress: The Residential Energy and Economic Savings (TREES) Act. The legislation, co-sponsored by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), focuses on a very specific ecological service provided by urban forests: energy savings. The TREES Act would set up a grant program to help electric utilities establish tree planting programs designed to reduce residential energy demands.

Illustration of how to properly place trees to save energy
Illustration of how to properly place trees to save energy. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The science behind this idea is pretty clear. According to research, just three large trees planted at a proper distance around your home — two on the west side and one on the east — can provide enough shade to reduce your air-conditioning costs by 30 percent in the summer. And, when placed properly to reduce wind exposure, they can reduce heating bills in the winter by two to eight percent. However, the reality is that not enough people put these ideas into practice, which is where the TREES Act comes in.

Being from Sacramento, Congresswoman Matsui has seen firsthand a successful model for the types of programs the TREES Act would fund, as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has been conducting a tree planting energy savings program for two decades. As we detail in our Urban Forests Case Studies chapter on Sacramento, SMUD has invested $35 million in the program over its lifetime, planting 500,000 trees that resulted in direct energy savings to consumers and the utility. According to SMUD’s Misha Sarkovich, “The beauty of this is that we recognize that one individual tree provides a small benefit, but if you plant a large number of trees and multiply it by a small benefit, you have a huge benefit.”

SMUD headquarters
SMUD practices what it preaches, as its headquarters are surrounded with vegetation. Credit: Donald Childs

With her newly introduced act, Congresswoman Matsui is hoping to bring this benefit to communities around the country. “As we continue to tackle the combined challenges of high energy costs and the effects of climate change, it is essential that we put in place innovative policies and forward-thinking programs that will help prepare us for generations to come,” she relates in a statement about the TREES Act. “The Residential Energy and Economic Savings Act, or TREES Act, would help reduce energy costs for consumers and improve air quality for all Americans. My home district of Sacramento, Calif., has implemented a successful shade tree program, and I believe replicating this program on a national level will help ensure that we are working towards a cleaner, healthier future.”

Here at American Forests, we’re hoping that the TREES Act gains the support of the House and eventually finds its way to the Senate, as it represents a worthwhile program designed to save the environment through tree planting (yay!) and to save homeowners money (double yay!). To show your support for Congresswoman Matsui’s TREES Act, head to our Action Center and send a pre-written letter that asks your local congressional member to support the TREES Act.