Regional Councils Leading Public Rollout of Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration manages and administers the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program (CFI Program), a competitive grant program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The CFI Program aims to strategically deploy publicly accessible electric vehicle (EV) charging and alternative fueling infrastructure in the places people live and work, urban and rural areas alike, in addition to along designated Alternative Fuel Corridors (AFCs). CFI Program investments will make modern and sustainable infrastructure accessible to all drivers of electric, hydrogen, propane, and natural gas vehicles. The BIL provides $2.5 billion over five years for the CFI program. 

This program provides two funding categories of grants:  

  • Corridor Charging: To deploy electric vehicle charging and hydrogen/propane/natural gas fueling infrastructure along designated alternative fuel corridors. 
  • Community Charging: To install electric vehicle charging and alternative fuel in locations on public roads, near schools and parks, and in publicly accessible parking facilities. Community Charging grants prioritize rural areas and low-and moderate-income neighborhoods with low ratios of private parking or high ratios of multiunit dwellings. 

 The first round of CFI Program funds was recently awarded, providing $623 million in grant funding to 47 applicants, with approximately half of the funding going to 36 community projects, including two Tribal projects, and the other half to 11 corridor recipients.  Five awardees are councils of governments that will provide charging infrastructure in their regions.  

For a full list of grant recipients, click here. 

Five NARC Members Among Grant Recipients

The San Joaquin Council of Governments was awarded a $15,000,000 EV charging community grant to expand electrification for all in San Joaquin County. San Joaquin County plans to install 74 Level-2 and 40 DC fast chargers at 20 locations countywide. The project significantly expands public charging infrastructure in disadvantaged communities and implements a robust community outreach and workforce development program. 

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) was awarded a $6,120,067 EV charging community grant for a Transportation System Electrification Strategy that Works for Everyone – Community Element. ARC plans to install 300-400 electric vehicle charging ports across metro Atlanta and will focus on underserved communities to support equity in the region’s EV transition. 

Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) was awarded a $4,245,267 community grant for their Regional Charging & Fueling Infrastructure Proposal (2023). MACOG plans to fill gaps in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in rural areas and disadvantaged communities in the region.  

Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) was awarded a $15,000,000 community grant for their Northeast Ohio Regional Electric Vehicle Charging Station Program: Phase 2. NOACA began Phase 1 of its Regional EV Charging Program to implement 40 stations around the region in 2023.  Phase 2 builds off of Phase 1, and includes approximately 63 more sites in Northeast Ohio, including the city of Cleveland and the surrounding counties of Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina. 

North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) was awarded both a community grant and a corridor grant. NCTCOG received a $15,000,000 community grant to Implement the North Texas Equitable Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NTx–EEVI) Project. They also received a $70,000,000 hydrogen corridor grant for the Texas Hydrogen and Electric Freight Infrastructure (Tx–HEFTI) Project 

NARC congratulates all participants and winners of DOT’s Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Program. These local communities and organizations are filling local charging needs and gaps enabling wider EV adoption across the nation.  

Looking Ahead: A Half Century of CDBG 

Next year, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program will celebrate 50 years of supporting local community building programs such as infrastructure, economic development, housing, and disaster recovery. Since its establishment, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has helped communities across the nation address the most pressing challenges facing residents. While HUD’s programs have evolved over the years, its core functions—providing assisted housing, promoting responsible homeownership, ensuring fair housing, and fostering community development—remain unchanged. Essential to these core functions, CDBG provides annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to develop healthy urban communities by providing affordable and accessible housing, a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities. 

The CDBG program grows local economies and improves the quality of lives for low- and moderate-income citizens. Over 1,200 jurisdictions receive an annual allocation of CDBG funds. Nationally, over 7,200 rural, suburban, and urban communities have access to CDBG funds. Communities use CDBG to respond to current and emerging community development needs, including job creation, affordable housing development, improvement of existing housing stock, the delivery of services, and the development of infrastructure improvements.

CDBG Coalition

The CDBG Coalition represents a network of 33 national organizations across various sectors including elected officials, state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and advocates. The Coalition supports the growth of the CDBG program and its mission to improve infrastructure, housing, public services, and economic development in underserved communities. 

Coalition members have planned events and activities that highlight the various aspects of CDBG throughout 2024. As a coalition member, NARC will partner with HUD, the Administration, and Congress to share in the accomplishments of the past 50 years and get this celebration underway. 

Looking forward to 2024, a different aspect of the CDBG program will be celebrated each month: 

February – Briefing for Congressional offices 

March – CDBG public services activities focus 

April – Community Development Month 

May – Public infrastructure activities focus 

June – Housing activities focus 

July – Economic development activities focus 

August – CDBG anniversary celebration 

September – Disaster recovery focus 

October – Acquisition & planning activities focus  

November – CDBG Coalition report highlighting the past and future of the program. 

Despite a significant return on investment, CDBG program funding levels have dropped for almost all states in the past 30 years when adjusted for inflation. The CDBG Coalition will continue its engagement with Congress to advocate for increased funding in FY25 and beyond. 

For more information about the coalition click here 

How Regional Organizations Use CDBG

Regional organizations help organize local efforts to utilize CDBG funds by providing technical support to communities who seek funding. 

  • The Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), in coordination with the State of Utah’s Housing and Community Development Division, administers the CDBG Small Cities Program for the region. Examples of 2022 projects that applicants in the region worked on include administration and planning, advanced metering infrastructure, Pilot Peak Water Line, home buyer assistance, and sewer equipment.  
  • The CDBG program is widely used across the regions in Texas with the Community Development Fund being the largest category in the state’s program. Funds are available biennially through competition in each of the 24 state planning regions. Most regions use CDBG funds for public facilities such as water/wastewater infrastructure, street and drainage improvements and housing activities.  
  • The Centralina Regional Council assists with the administration of CDBG in North Carolina by operating as an extension of local government staff to run a full grant program. Centralina assists with project development, application preparation and submission, grant administration, and project implementation for communities eligible to compete for funding.  
  • The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) applies for and administers CDBG grants for member communities, while also facilitating cooperation between members to increase the amount of funding received and improve its efficiency.  

NARC Wants to Hear from You!

NARC wants to hear from members who help their local governments access this funding. Please fill out the following survey to help us better understand which programs your organization leads or allocates to member local governments. 

Additional Resources:

Now is the Right time for Solar!  

The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) supports local solar energy leadership and is a proud partner of SolSmart. SolSmart is a solar energy designation and technical assistance program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that helps prepare communities for the solar energy transition at the local level. 

SolSmart offers no-cost technical assistance from a team of national experts that work with communities to identify local priorities and strategies to help make solar energy more affordable and accessible for residents and businesses. Successful communities are awarded the designation of SolSmart Bronze, Silver, Gold or the newly developed Platinum designation. SolSmart designated communities across the U.S. recognize solar energy as a resource offering a multitude of benefits, including savings on energy bills, opportunity for economic development, and local job growth. To date, more than 500 local and regional governments have achieved SolSmart designation across 43 states, representing more than 109 million people. 

SolSmart Program Expanded for 5 Additional Years

This year, the U.S. Department of Energy and the SolSmart team expanded the program to help 500 additional communities adopt nationally recognized solar best practices. That includes awarding outstanding solar leaders the new Platinum designation and ensuring that at least 200 of the new designees are communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution, in accordance with the Justice40 Initiative. If your community has already earned SolSmart Bronze, Silver, or Gold, you can also level up to a higher level of designation. 

Now is the Right Time to Engage in Solar Programing

In addition to SolSmart, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $7 billion competitive grant opportunity that will support the expansion of solar programs serving low-income and disadvantaged communities. Through the Solar for All program, up to 60 grants will be awarded to states, territories, Tribal governments, municipalities, and nonprofits.  

For many SolSmart communities, this could be an opportunity to build upon and accelerate work already underway. As described in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): “Solar for All grantees will provide subsidies and other financial assistance to residential rooftop and residential-serving community solar projects in and benefiting low-income and disadvantaged communities in addition to project-deployment technical assistance such as workforce development, community outreach, and other project-deployment support (e.g., interconnection technical assistance, siting and permitting support) to help overcome barriers to solar deployment.” 

This federal investment could be an incredible opportunity to expand solar access for low-income residents in your community! Whether you choose to apply directly, form a coalition with other communities or organizations, or coordinate with a state-led program, we encourage all SolSmart communities to consider how to take advantage of this exciting opportunity. 

Read the complete Notice of Funding Opportunity here. Applications are due September 26, 2023. All Applicants must first submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) expressing their intent to apply. The deadline for the NOI was on July 31, 2023 at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) for states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; August 14, 2023 at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) for territories (specifically, The Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), municipalities, and eligible nonprofit recipients; and August 28, 2023 at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) for Tribal governments and Intertribal Consortia. (see Section I.F.: Required Notice of Intent of the FOA for more detail). 

Need More Information?

Visit SolSmart.org to learn more and request a consultation. For additional information, the SolSmart Program Guide is an excellent, comprehensive guide that provides an overview of SolSmart and contains descriptions of the criteria, community examples, templates and other resources. 

Want to get started with SolSmart? Join us! 

Solar Power in Your Community: DOE Office of Energy Efficacy and Renewable Energy Release a Guidebook for Localities to Develop Solar Energy 

In 2022 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) released the Solar Power in Your Community guidebook, which will assist regional and local government officials and stakeholders in boosting solar deployment and overcoming common barriers in today’s market. This marks the third edition of the guidebook, which DOE originally published in 2011. The report provides best practices, case studies, and links to additional resources. Many examples are the direct result of SolSmart, a national designation program that recognized municipalities, counties, and regional organizations that are addressing market barriers and making it faster, easier, and more affordable to go solar. NARC joined the SolSmart project team in 2021. Additional information about NARC’s involvement and support for the regional designation pathway can be found on our website.   

Solar Power in Your Community Guidebook – Examples and Insights from Local Communities

The guidebook developed by NREL and DOE serves as a resource to assist government officials and regional stakeholders in increasing deployment and local access to solar photovoltaics. Through diverse case studies, information about new technologies, and more, you will gain invaluable insight and strategies for improving the equity of solar deployment at the local and regional level. 

Access the guidebook to learn more. 

Submission of Bulk Challenges

Regional Councils, COGs, and MPOs are encouraged to review and validate the availability data presented on the new National Broadband Map to determine whether to submit a challenge. If your organization or local districts determine that a challenge is needed, the FCC has provided steps to follow here. 

Solar Power in Your Community Guidebook – Reaching for Greater Solar Equity

Despite substantial market growth, barriers to solar adoption disproportionally impact low- to moderate-income (LMI) households and under-resourced communities. Regional and local governments are uniquely positioned to remove many of the barriers to widespread solar adoption and make solar energy more affordable and accessible for all.  

Steps Your Community Can Take Today to Increase Solar Deployment

What actions can regional governments, local jurisdictions, and communities take to make solar accessible and affordable? There’s a lot of options, including:  

  • Organizing and Strategizing a Regional Solar Effort 
  • Updating Regional and Local Policies and Processes 
  • Developing Local Workforce Training and Education Programs 
  • Educating and Empowering Potential Customers using Inclusive Strategies  
  • Installing Solar on Local Land and Buildings 

Learn more about all of these (and more) in the U.S. Department of Energy’s To learn more,  access the report on energy.gov.  

NARC Legislative Update And Analysis: U.S. House Passes Reconciliation Package

On November 19, the U.S. House passed its version of President Biden’s  Build Back Better Act (BBBA), a $1.75 trillion (H.R. 5376) reconciliation package  that includes paid family leave, universal preschool, tax incentives, climate initiatives, and a Medicare drug price negotiation program.  The legislation passed on a 220-213 party-line vote, utilizing the reconciliation process that give the House majority nearly complete control over all elements of the bill and substantially limits the minorities ability to amend the bill.  The bill now goes to the Seante where a similar drafting process will be used.  Most importantly, however, the reconciliation process enables the Senate majority to pass a bill with a simple majority.  Once drafted, the majority leader can bring the bill straight to the floor. and any amendments are required to comply with reconciliation rules, with a vote on passage to follow. If the Senate’s version differs from the House’s version the House and Senate will have to conference both bills and come to an agreement on a single bill that must then pass the House and Senate.  The House also has the option of skipping conference and vote on the Senate bill.  If it passes it will go to the president for his signature.   

The BBBA invests heavily in social programs such as childcare, preschool education, paid parental leave, resources to address climate change, education and housing stabilization and much more. Below are more details about some of these important programs.  

WHAT’S IN THE BUILD BACK BETTER ACT:  

Investments in Affordable Housing:

BBBA would provide a total of $150 billion for affordable housing programs that either improve or build over 1 million housing units.  

  • $3.05 billion for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, including $500 million for a new Manufactured Housing Community Improvement Program.  
  • $25 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers and supportive services.  
  • $35 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, including $15 billion to preserve and create affordable rental homes.  

Investments in Workforce Development:  

The bill would provide $4.5 billion for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I programs within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).  

  • $2 billion for the Dislocated Workers Work Employment and Training Activities  
  • $1 billion for Adult Worker Employment and Training Activities  
  • $1.5 billion Youth Workforce Investment Activities 

Investments in the Economic Development Administration: 

The bill would provide $5 billion to the Economic Development Administration (EDA). Of this total, counties would be eligible to receive funding under the following programs 

  • $3.36 billion for EDA’s Economic Adjustment Assistance Program to develop regional economic growth clusters, including grants for technical assistance, planning and predevelopment activities 
  • $480 million for EDA’s Economic Adjustment Assistance Program to provide grants for technical assistance, planning and predevelopment activities to energy and industrial transition communities 
  • $1.2 billion for a new Recompete Grants for Persistently Distressed Communities program, which would award grants to alleviate economic distress and support long-term comprehensive economic development and job creation 

Raises the Cap on The State and Local Tax Deduction: 

The bill would raise the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction from $10,000 to $80,000 and extend this cap through 2030. The $80,000 SALT cap amount would also apply to the 2021 tax year. For 2031, the SALT deduction cap would be set at $10,000. 

Investments in Climate Action:  

The BBBA would provide $555 billion for climate and clean energy investments. The bill provides tax credits up to $12,500 to those buying new electric vehicles, as well as incentives to encourage solar panel installation as well as the following:  

  • $17.8 billion to mitigate air pollution;  
  • $95 million would address hazardous materials through competitive EPA grants to reduce waste in communities to construct, expand, or modernize recycling infrastructure;  
  • $9 billion would help reduce lead in clean drinking water;  
  • and, $8.27 billion promoting environmental equity.  

Investments in Rural Development: 

The bill would provide $873 million to establish a new Rural Partnership Program through USDA, which aims to enhance rural communities’ access to federal community and economic development funding by providing flexible grants and technical assistance to a range of entities. Some additional investments in rural communities include:  

  • $9.7 billion for clean energy repowering for rural utilities; 
  • $3.5 billion to provide grants to support rural development;  
  • and, $2.7 billion for grants for construction, alteration, acquisition, modernization, renovation, or remodeling of agricultural resource facilities.  

Investments in Telecommunications: 

BBBA would allocate grants for NG911 (next generation 911) services including $9 million to establish an NG911 Cybersecurity Center within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) in addition to $1 million to establish a 16-member Public Safety NG911 Advisory Board.  Beyond the NG911 funding, the Act also allocates $295 million to NTIA for grants to public-private partnerships aimed at increasing access to broadband in urban communities. Some of the funding programs include:  

  • $300 million for the extension of the Emergency Connectivity Fund;  
  • and, $500 million in increased investments in next generation 911.  

Investments in Transportation: 

This legislation would make transportation more accessible and affordable, and help tackle the climate crisis by reducing carbon pollution from transportation and building more resilient infrastructure. Some of the transportation related programs in the bill include:  

  • $50 million facilitates national environmental policy act (nepa) reviews  
  • $294 million alternative fuel and low-emission aviation technology program  
  • $10 billion passenger rail improvement, modernizations, and emissions (prime) reduction grants  
  • $4 billion in neighborhood access and equity grants  
  • $900 million in reimbursements for use of low-carbon materials in transportation projects. 

The above is not an exhaustive list of every program and funding source in the entirety of BBBA. Additional resources and analysis from the National Association of Counties (NACo) can be found here. NARC will continue to monitor the legislation as it progresses through the Senate and provide you with additional information.  

NARC Analysis: American Rescue Plan

NARC Analysis: American Rescue Plan

Last week, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law. The $1.9 trillion bill will provide additional relief to address the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses. NARC has created a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes some of the major pieces of this new bill. Feel free to share with your colleagues and membership and reach out to the NARC staff if you have any questions about the legislation.

Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Update

Congress has managed to hold to a two-year reauthorization schedule for the last three Water Resource Development Acts (2014, 2016, and 2018) and it looks like they are on track to increase that streak to four this year. This past Wednesday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to move H.R. 7575 The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020) out of committee. The bill is now headed to the House floor.

WRDA bills provide authority for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct projects and studies. They have historically included (or been packaged with bills including) other water-related provisions such as drinking water programs and water infrastructure funding mechanisms.

This year’s House WRDA bill would provide around $8.6 billion in funding for 34 USACE projects. This is notably more than five times as many projects as were approved by WRDA 2018. The bill would authorize 35 new USACE studies and calls for 41 ongoing studies to be expedited. In addition to project authorizations, the bill includes three other significant provisions shared more in detail below:

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “Unlocked”

The House bill would “unlock” $10 billion in funds held in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), allowing that money to be spent on dredging and port projects. This has been a longtime aim of Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR). HMTF funds were partially unlocked earlier this year in the CARES Act, but annual expenditures from the fund were capped at the amount of the previous year’s HMTF revenue. WRDA 2020 would expand on this by allowing access to additional funds from the existing HMTF balance.

Inland Waterways Trust Fund Cost Share Reduced

WRDA 2020 would reduce the share drawn from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to 35% from the current 50% for lock and dam projects on rivers. This would increase the Treasury’s general fund cost share for these projects from 50% to 65%. Theoretically this reduction of trust fund spending will allow trust fund dollars to fund more projects. This change notably is not permanent and would apply only to projects beginning before the end of 2027.

An Increasing Focus on Resilience and Environmental Justice

This year’s WRDA is crafted with an increasing focus on disaster resilience and consideration of communities impacted by flooding and other water-related dangers. Of the 34 projects approved for USACE work, seven are for flood management and two others are for flood reduction with ecosystem restoration components. The bill also reaffirms a commitment to using natural and nature-based solutions and authorizing projects and studies for communities facing repetitive flooding events. The bill also includes PFAS provisions, increases minority community and tribal input on projects, and aims to address affordability issues for disadvantaged communities.

What’s Happening in the Senate?

The Senate’s 2020 WRDA proposal has been voted through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but has not yet received a floor vote. The Senate’s proposal comprises two bills: one for USACE entitled America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2020, and another for drinking-water authorizations and provisions called the Drinking Water Act of 2020. The Senate proposal, like the House bill, was developed using a bipartisan approach and has broad support on both sides of the aisle.

What’s Next for WRDA?

With bipartisan proposals already out of committee in the House and Senate and plenty of pressure to stick to the two-year authorization cycle, the outlook looks bright for WRDA 2020. As broader infrastructure packages like the Moving Forward Act remain mired in partisan debate, WRDA presents an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on infrastructure investment. Expect to hear more on WRDA once Congress returns from their August recess.

For further reading, check out the House bill text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; the Senate AWIA text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; and the Senate Drinking Water Act text and section-by-section summary.

Regions Help Move Earth Day Online

Happy Earth Day! And happy 50th birthday to Earth Day! Today marks fifty years since the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd 1970.

While Earth Day in 1970 “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform,” this year’s Earth Day is being observed in a very different way.

Due to precautions against the coronavirus, Earth Day 2020 is not being celebrated as it usually is with large demonstrations, parades and in-person events. In accordance with social distancing guidelines, Earth Day has moved online with virtual events and posts taking the place of traditional celebrations.

The Earth Day Network, the official organizers of Earth Day is holding a 24 Hours of Action, providing an hourly call to action. They are also streaming performances and speeches throughout the day.

Regional councils have also joined in to celebrate the day online by spreading information on their environmental programs, and encouraging community members to engage in earth-friendly activities and head outside to enjoy nature (in safe and socially responsible ways!)

Check out the posts below to see how regional councils are celebrating:

Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) – Earth Day Facts and Information About yourcommutesolution.org

H-GAC Earth Day Fact Tweet #3

H-GAC is tweeting throughout the day to share Earth Day facts. Did you know that Houston’s first light rail line was partly responsible for a 24 percent reduction in carbon monoxide, improving air quality in the two years following its opening? -We didn’t! To see more facts, check out their social media accounts. H-GAC is also taking the opportunity to share information about yourcommutesolution.org which provides options for residents of the region to improve their commutes and help to enhance the region’s air quality.

Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – Blog: 50 Years of Celebrating Earth Day: Look How Far We’ve Come

A photo from SEMCOG’s blog shows kayakers on the Rouge River, one of the success stories of the region’s environmental efforts.

SEMCOG’s blog features an Earth Day post written by Katie Grantham, a planner with their Environment and Infrastructure group. The post celebrates some of the environmental progress that has been made in the region since the first Earth Day. (Last year marked the 50th Anniversary of when the Rouge River caught fire!) And highlights SEMCOG environmental programs like their Ozone Action program, and offers ideas for ways that community members can get engage with local Earth Day events like virtual cleanups.

Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) -Earth Day Recycling Survey

AACOG is reaching out today to community members today to encourage them to participate in an Earth Day recycling survey. Input from the survey will be used to better understand the region’s recycling and solid waste services needs to assist with short and long term planning. AACOG is the state-designated planning agency for solid waste management issues in the region and provides a range of planning and programmatic support that helps to ensure that solid waste is managed in responsible and earth-friendly ways.

Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) Virtual Earth Day Celebration With Calumet Collaborative

NIRPC partnered with the Calumet Collaborative, a regional community partnership group, to develop a virtual Earth Day celebration. The day-long event featured an array of live speakers and documentary watch-parties followed by discussion. The event highlighted local environmental programs and resources including regional water clean-up efforts, outdoor recreation opportunities at nearby parks, and community projects like the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Virtual Earth Day clean up.

Celebrating Earth Day at your regional council? Send your stories to eli.spang@narc.org or use the hashtag #RegionsLead on social media!

Highlights From the EPA America Recycles Summit and Innovation Fair 2019

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its second annual America Recycles Summit and inaugural Innovation Fair to highlight national efforts being taken to address major challenges facing the U.S. recycling system. The two-day event brought together industry heads, nonprofit organizations, local and regional leadership, and the federal government to network; show off their latest recycling projects, programs, and technology; and collectively commit to work towards the implementation of the EPA’s 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System.

This framework, officially released on America Recycles Day (November 15), details the work of four working groups created to address critical areas for action: promoting education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary materials markets, and enhancing measurement. The framework document summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the workgroups in 2019 and lays out a path forward for the new year. Recommended 2020 workgroup actions under consideration include:

  • Develop and make available a set of common recycling messages and national public relations campaign to lay the foundation for this common messaging.
  • Conduct and compile research on successful infrastructure investments and continue to support programs like the “Materials Recovery for the Future” pilot project.
  • Explore economic models to create robust and sustainable domestic secondary markets and articulate a better business case for using recycled materials.
  • Develop a central compilation of data and metrics used to measure recycling or components of the recycling system.

These critical considerations were echoed in the America Recycles Summit, where speakers discussed how we can chart a path forwards towards a more resilient U.S. recycling system. Below are themes and takeaways from the event:

Education: A large portion of the event was devoted to the importance of using education as a strategy to address the nation’s recycling challenges. Helen Lowman, CEO and President of Keep America Beautiful, stressed the importance that consistent, ongoing messaging has on the public. Recycling dialogue needs to provide a positive image about the current state of recycling and explain why it is important to continue recycling.

Partnerships: The broad range of participants in the room demonstrated that no one entity is to blame for U.S. recycling shortfalls, nor can anyone solve this problem alone. No one solution exists to fix the American recycling system. It will require a collaborative effort, relying on partnerships built between the private sector, non-profit organizations, governing bodies at all levels, and the general public to carry the momentum forward.

Innovation: There was a general consensus that Americans want to recycle, yet so many communities do not have access to recycling centers or have systems in place to handle the management of recycled materials. This is especially the case for rural, remote, and hard-to-reach communities. Innovation needs to happen to improve the recycling infrastructure in all communities, whether that community is a coastal city or a rural, heartland town.

How can your organization can get involved with EPA’s recycling efforts? An action you can take today is to sign the America Recycles Pledge, an initiative resulting from the EPA’s first recycling summit. All U.S. based organizations can join NARC in signing the pledge, signifying that you are willing to commit to work towards a more resilient materials economy and build on existing efforts addressing the challenges facing the nation’s current recycling system.

How Regions are Supporting Recycling in an Increasingly Challenging Market

As the cost of recycling is escalating for many local governments, regional councils are working toward solutions. Regional Councils and Metropolitan Planning Agencies (MPOs) are looking at solutions that reduce waste, improve recycling efficiency, and/or educate public and private entities on better recycling practices. Some of these programs, like the Upper Arkansas Recycling Program, highlight the cost savings that collaboration provides. Others, like the Iowa Waste Exchange offer a service that connects businesses with would-be discarded materials.

Recycling pledges are another effort to increase engagement and raise awareness about the nation’s recycling challenges. The National Association of Regional Councils recently signed on to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) America Recycles Pledge in order to work toward a more resilient materials economy. Signatories promote education and outreach, pledge to enhance materials management infrastructure, strengthen secondary materials markets, and attempt to enhance the measurement of recycled materials.

Regional Recycling Programs

Region XII Council of Governments: Iowa Waste Exchange

Region XII Council of Governments runs a no-cost materials exchange program called the Iowa Waste Exchange (IWE) where the Region XII COG maintains a database of available and wanted materials and is funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The idea behind the IWE is for companies and other groups to use the confidential resources provided by Region XII to find a market for materials they would otherwise discard or warehouse. The program also offers free consultations to locate needed materials or potential buyers. The Iowa Waste Exchange offers services including online materials listings, waste management technical assistance, materials innovation service, economic development and general business assistance, and area resource specialists.

Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG): Upper Arkansas Recycling Program

The Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) operates a collaborative low-cost recycling agreement. The Upper Arkansas Recycling Program (UAR) is a collaborative effort between the UAACOG and other regional entities. In an effort to bring additional resources to the region all partners of the UAR have signed an intergovernmental agreement. The program, which has been in operation since 1998, is funded by an annual $1.30 per capita charge and consists of drop-off recycling sites in all of the partner areas accepting newspaper, aluminum, tin, and glass. UAACOG maintains collection totals, provides community support, coordinates special collection events, and runs a specialty Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for glass.

Mid-America Regional Council (MARC): Solid Waste Management District

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is a Solid Waste Management District which administers a solid waste grant program for waste reduction, reuse, and recycling projects. Cities and counties, non-profit organizations, businesses, and schools throughout the region can apply for the grant. MARC also supports the collection and disposal of household hazardous waste through contracts with two permanent collection facilities and several mobile collection events. In addition to this, MARC has created public education initiatives to reduce the amount of waste the region sends to area landfills. MARC also manages the RecycleSpot.org website and a recycling hotline (816/474-TEAM), that provides residents information on recycling opportunities in the region.

Texas Council of Governments 

Texas handles solid waste and recycling a little differently than other states. This is due to the fact that Texas designates all of its COGS as planning agencies for solid waste and all Texas COGs receive state funding to distribute local and regional implementation grants for programs related to recycling and waste management.

As solid waste planning agencies, Texas COGs must also develop regional solid waste management plans outlining activities and priorities that will be initiated in the region throughout the planning period including items such as population and growth patterns, economic activity, waste generation and characteristics, waste management systems, summary of needs and problems, goals, and an action plan for the region. Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), in the metro Austin area, lists 15 intended goals under their regional solid waste plan, ranging from reduction strategies to administrative goals.

All Texas COGs receive state funding from landfill fees that allow them to support projects that further the regional solid waste management plan. In an effort to extend the life of landfills, the North Central Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is using such funding for programs such as Time to Recycle and Report DFW Dumping. Across the state, there is a serious effort to reduce landfill disposals and waste. This is especially true after the 2017 release of a report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which reported that annual landfill disposal reached approximately 33.3 million tons of waste across the state, equivalent to 6.84 pounds of waste per Texan per day.

Whether it’s a collaborative reuse material buying market, special collection events, public recycling education outreach, solid waste management plans, or efforts to extend the lifecycle of current landfills, regions are finding innovative and collaborative solutions to the nation’s recycling challenges.