Federal funds are needed for Philly to become our nation’s biggest green city

Urban forestry initiatives have begun benefitting underserved communities

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia

Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia Jon Lovette / Getty Images

While the federal farm bill doesn’t seem like it has much to do with urban areas like Philadelphia, President Joe Biden’s vision for agricultural policy is critical for mitigating the impacts of climate change and protecting water quality in the city.

While our watershed doesn’t have a lot of farming activity, agricultural runoff from other parts of the state flows into our streams and rivers, degrading the water that we drink. Addressing these upstream effects by helping farmers better manage waste and reduce their fertilizer usage will pay big dividends in our region.

Last year, Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests nearly $370 billion to fight climate change by building a clean energy economy. The president’s climate plan jumpstarts the transition to electric vehicles and helps working families afford heat pumps and energy-efficient appliances while turbocharging weatherization initiatives to lessen our reliance on dirty fossil fuels.

The president’s climate plan also leverages natural tools to limit carbon pollution from agriculture while providing a decade of funding to important urban forestry initiatives. These completely voluntary programs are designed to lower costs for farmers even as they reduce carbon pollution and improve water quality downstream. At the same time, Biden and congressional Democrats are investing in our urban canopy.

These initiatives won’t just take carbon out of the atmosphere; they’re also targeted to help poorer neighborhoods in Philadelphia withstand the threat that climate change already poses. We know that lower-income neighborhoods like Olney and Frankford can be up to 10 degrees hotter than wealthier neighborhoods because of a lack of shade trees and other greenery that helps keep temperatures down on the hottest days. This “heat island” effect also exacerbates asthma and heart conditions, which disproportionately confront Black and brown families in cities like Philadelphia.

For years, the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership has worked collaboratively with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to help plant trees in these underserved communities to combat the heat island effect. Better tree cover also helps divert stormwater runoff from our sewers and improves water quality. With the creative use of existing federal and local funds, we’ve been able to target neighborhoods like Olney and Feltonville and focus improvements on Tacony Creek Park, a vital space for outdoor recreation in these underserved neighborhoods.

Biden’s urban forestry initiatives are turbocharging these efforts. Already, the federal government has awarded the city $12 million to implement the Philly Tree Plan, the city’s first comprehensive plan to equitably care for our urban forest. These federal funds will be leveraged with state, local and philanthropic dollars to scale up the work of organizations like ours throughout the city.

How does the farm bill fit into this? While the Inflation Reduction Act guarantees 10 years of funding for these groundbreaking programs, Republicans in Congress have pledged to slash funding for climate-smart agriculture and urban forestry initiatives as part of negotiations on the federal farm bill, which will set federal policies on agriculture and nutrition assistance over the next six years.

We need to protect these funds in the face of Republican attacks. Our city has made enormous strides in recent years, cleaning up our waterways and addressing flooding. The Biden climate agenda gives us the resources we need to double down on these programs while also allowing us to target investments in Black and brown communities that need help now. Additionally, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker was a champion of these initiatives when she served on City Council, fighting to invest in tree-planting and urban forestry initiatives in some of the poorest parts of our watershed.

Now is the time for elected officials at every level of government to stand strong and insist that these funds remain in place. Doing so will help us turn Philadelphia into our nation’s greenest big city.

Julie Slavet is the executive director of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, and Molly Parzen is the executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania.

NEXT STORY: Liz Magill resigned; now comes the hard part for higher education