Federal sustainability programs at risk, CNU says

As the Obama Administration releases a budget that pleases some transit advocates, the Congress for the New Urbanism warns that the promising HUD, DOT, and EPA sustainable communities programs are facing the Congressional axe.

“We want to alert you to an impending threat to some relatively small but important programs that are on the chopping block in DC,” wrote CNU CEO and President John Norquist and Chair Victor Dover. “Yesterday morning NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman warned about cuts to programs that can build a stronger future for America. There may be no better example than the attack on Sustainability planning grant programs. These grants fund planning that can save energy and increase productivity in communities across America.”

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is an unprecedented partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), US Department of Transportation (DOT), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to bring together housing, transportation, and environmental resources at the federal level to promote sustainable land use and transportation.

This partnership has worked together on 107 grants for planning-related activities through both Sustainable Communities and TIGER II grants, Reconnecting America reports. Forty-five regions and 61 individual communities received planning grants. DOT also issued another 42 TIGER II grants for capital projects, in addition to its previous award of 51 TIGER I grants in February, 2010. Approximately 59 of the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) received some type of award, the organization reports. Of the 50 largest MSAs, 40 received an award.

In an email letter to CNU members, Norquist and Dover explain: “The House Appropriations Committee’s 2011-12 budget proposal completely eliminates the HUD, USDOT, and EPA Sustainability programs. The new GOP majority also plans to try to rescind dollars already awarded by the Sustainability and TIGER grant programs. The Senate (which retains a Democratic majority) and President Barack Obama would have to agree to the cuts, but the Sustainability programs are at great risk as other appropriations with organized interest groups supporting them also face reductions. The highway lobby and the housing industry, for example, will be aggressively defending what they see as their interests.”

Norquist and Dover urge CNU members to make sure that the recent sustainability grants — issued in October 2010 — “are used for good urban projects.” They also ask members to fight to save the program. At the end of January, Shelley Poticha, former CNU executive director and current senior advisor for sustainable housing and communities at HUD, spoke at the Seaside Institute, urging new urbanists and smart growth advocates to get involved. “She said communities across America want and need design and planning advice. ‘I just issued 40 mil of grants to change the codes of this country. Get off your butts and write them,’ she said, imploring CNU designers to help local, regional governments get the planning and coding right.”

Posted by Robert Steuteville on 15 Feb 2011