Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, mocked the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, fixated on the funds going to urban forestry.
At a Republican Jewish Committee event near Atlanta on August 21st, Walker was quoted saying, “[Democrats] continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out, but they’re not. Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”
The following day, he doubled down on his Twitter, posting, “Yes, you heard me right…Joe Biden and @ReverendWarnock are spending $1.5 billion on ‘urban forestry’ and raising taxes on those making under $200k to pay for it. Yes, I have a problem with that.”
Walker did not misrepresent the amount of funding allocated for urban forestry under the new law ($150 million a year over the bill’s 10-year lifespan, or $1.5 billion total). He did, however, neglect to mention that most of the tax provisions in the bill are aimed at wealthy money managers and big companies, not those making less than $200,000 per year.
An analysis from the congressional bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation shows that although the new law will raise taxes on citizens from every tax bracket, the increases are minimal. It estimates that the federal tax burden for all Americans would rise by an average of 1.4 percent in 2023 and by less in future years. For those earning between $30,000 and $100,000 a year, the increase would be less than 1 percent in 2023.
When PolitiFact contacted the Walker campaign, they insisted that “our inner cities need less crime, not more trees.”
During his campaign so far, Walker has made incoherent comments about climate change and related policies, fundamentally misunderstanding the subject and the magnitude of the issue. At a GOP event in July, Walker explained what he believes is happening to America’s “good air.”
In reality, urban areas in America need more trees than ever. Brian Stone Jr., an urban environmental planning and design professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, says, “The allocation of funds to tree planting in cities can have an immense impact on heat risk.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8,081 people died in the United States from heat-related deaths between 1999 and 2010, about 75 percent of which had heat identified as the primary cause rather than a contributing factor. The numbers have seemingly increased in recent years. Data from a University of Pennsylvania study found an estimated 13,000 to 20,000 heat-related deaths between 2008 and 2017. Stone says planting trees in Atlanta “can reduce heat-wave mortality by more than 20 percent.”
Trees can also help Americans save money on cooling. Research published by the US Forest Service suggests that urban trees and forests help decrease residential electricity use by over 7 percent per year, saving people money on utility and reducing emissions from electricity generation.
As the climate conditions worsen and create more extreme weather, trees can additionally reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are exacerbating climate change. Jad Daley, president and CEO of the advocacy group American Forests, notes that an estimated 130 million metric tons per year of carbon dioxide are being stored in trees and forests and calls tree-planting a “really big slice of the natural climate solution,” as well as “a meaningful contribution to actually pull carbon dioxide out of the air.”
The Inflation Reduction Act, which Walker and Republicans have been pushing against, has a focus on racial and economic justice, directing the bill’s funding to neighborhoods that are low-income and relatively treeless. “Across the nation,” said Daley, “the lowest-income neighborhoods in America have 41 perecent less tree cover than the wealthiest neighborhoods.” According to Daley, areas where a majority of residents are people of color have about 33 percent less tree cover. “Essentially, shade and cooling is distributed according to race and income,” said Daley.
Meanwhile, Walker’s solution to Georgia’s urban forestry issue and the world climate crisis is to blame China for stealing all of America’s “good air.”