Between the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the US federal government has committed to investing billions of dollars to decarbonize cities and towns across the country, including funding for urban parks and forests, home energy efficiency, pollution mitigation, and more.
A recent report by Indiana University researchers, however, finds that around 4 out of 5 Hoosier cities and towns lack the resources to apply for sustainability-focused federal grant funding and would need additional staff to manage funds if they received it. The findings come as the Biden administration rolls out new details on how local governments can apply for funding.
“Between these two bills, there are at least 40 different programs with funding for state and local governments totaling more than $100 billion,” said Aaron Deslatte, an assistant professor at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs who led the survey. “Most local governments in Indiana increasingly recognize their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and extreme heat. But even with these new funds being made available, they likely won’t have the capacity to do more than they’re already doing.”
In 2022, Deslatte’s team issued a survey to every Indiana city and town with a population of at least 1,000 residents to gauge their activities related to resilience and sustainability. Of the 174 respondents, 75% reported they have never budgeted for a sustainability project and 65% indicated they have never written a grant for a sustainability project.
The top barriers cited for not pursuing sustainability projects and actions include:
- lack of financial resources and funding (78%),
- lack of staff (53%),
- residents who don’t place much priority on sustainability (29%),
- and not enough information to know what to do (23%).
Deslatte will be sharing more results from the survey—as well as potential ways Indiana communities could overcome identified barriers—during the Indiana Sustainability and Resilience Conference, to be held Feb. 17 at the IUPUI Campus Center.
Only a handful of Indiana local governments currently have staff dedicated to sustainability. Municipalities such as Indianapolis, Bloomington, and South Bend contain departments dedicated to sustainability initiatives, while other communities such as West Lafayette and Richmond have recently hired or are planning to hire a full-time employee to manage sustainability efforts.
A dedicated department isn’t required to pursue federal sustainability funding, however, and Deslatte’s research shows that nearly half of Indiana communities are engaged in a range of climate-friendly measures, such as promoting bicycle use or water conservation, regardless of whether they have a full-time employee overseeing sustainability or not.
“The local governments I talk to are usually pretty open to engaging with sustainability if there’s a benefit that can be demonstrated,” Deslatte said, “but it’s oftentimes considered a luxury, something above or beyond their day-to-day responsibilities.”
For this reason, both the IIJA and the IRA include funds for federal and state agencies to help communities get up to speed and apply for funding. For example, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, which was included in the infrastructure law, allows some funding for communities to develop energy and climate plans.
“In Indiana, there’s going to be a lot of local governments that will need assistance to walk them through the funding opportunities and help them tap into these resources,” Deslatte said.
View survey report for cities and towns with at least 5,000 residents
View survey report for cities and towns with fewer than 5,000 residents
About the Environmental Resilience Institute
Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute brings together a broad coalition of government, business, nonprofit, and community leaders to help Indiana and the Midwest better prepare for the challenges of environmental change. By integrating research, education, and community, ERI is working to create a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future. Learn more at eri.iu.edu.