Sarbanes, Matsui, Fortenberry Lead Bipartisan Effort to Help Homeowners Plant More Trees and Reduce Energy Costs

Today, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced The Residential Energy and Economic Savings (TREES) Act, a bill to help homeowners lower energy costs, reduce stormwater runoff and mitigate the effects of climate change by planting more trees.

The bill creates a new Department of Energy (DOE) grant program that offers homeowners free or reduced-cost tree planting services to help shade homes, reduce energy use and tackle the climate crisis.

“Planting more trees is one of the best natural solutions to help mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change,” said Congressman Sarbanes, a prominent member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a longtime advocate for climate action. “The TREES Act will help homeowners – especially in underserved communities – plant more trees to shade homes and lower electric bills, reduce stormwater runoff and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”

“Every American deserves to breathe clean air and live in a community with green space. For far too many people across the country, that has not been the case. That’s why I am proud of the Sacramento Shade program, led by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and the Sacramento Tree Foundation. Through this program, both entities work to plant new trees across the region. Their effort is lowering energy costs, reducing temperatures on our streets and beautifying neighborhoods – leading to higher property values. The TREES Act incentivizes successful programs like ours and scales them to the national level,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “In Sacramento, SMUD has assisted in planting over 600,000 trees – reducing our city’s annual electricity use by enough to power over 21,000 homes. By creating a competitive tree-planting grant program, we can empower communities to improve green space, reduce consumer costs, and help fight climate change – a win-win-win. I am proud to reintroduce this critically important legislation because reforestation, particularly for frontline communities in urban areas, is central to comprehensive solutions that will address the climate crisis. I look forward to working with my colleagues in moving this important bill through Congress so that every zip code has the opportunity to thrive.”

“Nebraska's J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, once said: ‘Each generation of humanity takes the earth as trustees.’ That is the spirit behind this important legislation, which enshrines in law a simple, profound proposition: Plant a tree and the earth will be stronger,” said Congressman Fortenberry.

Key provisions of the TREES Act include:

  • Creating a new grant program at the Department of Energy to provide financial assistance to retail power providers to support the establishment of new, or continued operation of existing, targeted residential tree-planting programs that meet the following requirements:
    • Provides free or discounted shade-providing or wind-reducing trees to residential consumers;
    • Provides trees for the purpose of either maximizing shade during the summer or maximizing wind protection during the fall and winter;
    • Uses best available science for tree-siting guidelines for optimum placement to ensure long-term tree survival;
    • Provides recipients with planting and care instruction;
    • Ensures engagement and collaboration with community members; and
    • Has been certified by the Secretary of DOE in consultation with the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program to meet the above criteria.
  • Providing grants to retail power providers that have entered into agreements with local nonprofit tree-planting organizations. If a retail power provider does not have a tree-planting nonprofit to partner with, it may partner instead with a local municipal government with jurisdiction over the urban/suburban forest or a conservation district.
  • In launching a local tree-planting program, the utility and tree-planting organization must work to form a Technical Advisory Committee made up of volunteer individuals such as employees at the utility, city officials, nonprofit staff, staff of local environmental organizations, local affordable housing agency representatives and public infrastructure experts. 
  • Offering a 50-percent-maximum cost share from the federal government for the tree-planting program on a matching basis.
  • Requiring the Department of Energy to compile information on the program and submit a report to Congress detailing the success of the program and any relevant recommendations on how to improve the program.
  • Creating the “Arbor City of America” award. Each year, DOE shall name an “Arbor City of America” and award that City $250,000 to support future efforts to increase green space and green infrastructure. 

Original co-sponsors of the TREES Act include:

  • Rep. Deb Halaand (D-N.M.)
  • Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.)
  • Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.)