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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 29, 2021

‘Tree equity’ part of $3.5T bill targets low-income areas that have fewer trees

If Your Time is short

  • The $3 billion "tree equity" plan, part of a Democratic-backed $3.5 trillion spending bill, is not specifically race-based. It is aimed at low-income areas that have fewer trees.

One piece of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — $3 billion for trees — is being ridiculed in a widely shared Facebook post.

The post states:

"The Democrats want YOU American Taxpayers to shell out $3 BILLION for ‘non-racist’ trees. You can't make this up."

The attack was made by FreedomWorks, a group that advocates for lower taxes and small government and has 4.4 million Facebook followers.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The phrase "non-racist’ trees" appears to be a mocking reference to a climate-change policy that proponents of the Democrats’ plans call tree equity. But the phrase mangles the definition of that concept.

The bill and the tree provision

We asked FreedomWorks for information to back its claim. A spokesperson referred us to language in the bill.

The $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill backed by Democrats includes many parts of President Joe Biden’s tax and spending proposals that have attracted little or no buy-in from Republicans, including expanded social programs and efforts to combat climate change. 

Many in the GOP argue that the bill calls for too much spending, and that it could contribute to rising inflation.

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One provision proposes giving $3 billion in grants to state and local governments and nonprofits "for tree planting and related activities to increase community tree canopy and associated societal and climate co-benefits, with a priority for projects that increase tree equity."

Priority would be given to "a census block group in which 30% or more of the population lives below the poverty line; and a neighborhood with lower tree canopy and higher maximum daytime summer temperatures compared to surrounding neighborhoods"; and to "underserved populations."

How proponents describe ‘tree equity’ 

The conservation group American Forests issued a statement praising the bill. 

The $3 billion would be an "investment in planting equitable tree cover across our cities as protection against climate-fueled extreme heat and air pollution," the statement said. "This new federal funding can feed the growing movement in cities across America, from Tucson to Boston, to make tree equity part of their push to equitably protect every neighborhood from climate change. This comes as some projections show we could see as many as 100,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from extreme heat before the end of the century."

The group’s website says trees are a "pathway to social equity." The group says trees absorb air pollutants, prevent heat-related deaths and illnesses, and reduce energy usage for heating and cooling — but that "often in cities, trees are sparse in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods and some neighborhoods of color."

Bloomberg CityLab reported in August 2020 that cities across America are pledging to plant trees and restore urban forests to "combat climate change and cool off disadvantaged communities."

Our ruling

FreedomWorks claimed in a Facebook post: "The Democrats want you American taxpayers to shell out $3 billion for ‘non-racist’ trees."

The Democrats’ bill would set aside $3 billion to support tree planting with a priority for projects that increase tree equity. But FreedomWorks’ reference to "non-racist trees" distorts the notion of tree equity, which is to provide the health and environmental benefits that trees provide in low-income areas that currently lack tree cover.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, Sept. 28, 2021

U.S. House, reconciliation bill, accessed Sept. 29, 2021

Email, Peter Vicenzi, director of communications, FreedomWorks, Sept. 29, 2021

PolitiFact, "The Democrats’ reconciliation bill: What you need to know," Sept. 10, 2021

New York Post, "Biden, Dems’ $3.5T spending spree includes money for ‘tree equity,’ bias training," Sept. 27, 2021

Fox Business, "$3.5T spending package includes big money for 'tree equity,' bias training and more," Sept. 27, 2021

Bloomberg CityLab, "Can Planting Trees Make a City More Equitable?", Aug. 28, 2020

American Forests, statement, Sept. 13, 2021

American Forests, "Trees As A Pathway For Social Equity," accessed Sept. 29, 2021 

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‘Tree equity’ part of $3.5T bill targets low-income areas that have fewer trees

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