Omaha is on track to receive $1 million from the federal government to fund climate change planning and reduce greenhouse gasses in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area. 

Marco Floreani, the deputy chief of economic development, told The Reader the City of Omaha submitted its notice to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to receive funding from the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program. The grant is noncompetitive, so a lead organization from the Omaha-Council Bluffs region only needed to tell the federal government it wanted to participate to get the money.

As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal program will help municipalities and states cover the costs of creating or updating climate, energy or sustainability plans. The Omaha-Council Bluffs region was one of 79 metropolitan areas eligible to apply for the money by April 28.

Efforts to fund and create the City of Omaha’s Climate Action Plan have been more than a year in the works. This $1 million from the federal government could be used to pay for that plan, Floreani said, though he’s looking to the EPA for guidance on that question.

In March 2023, the Omaha City Council approved a $376,000 contract between Minnesota-based company paleBLUEdot and local engineering firm HDR to draft its climate action plan and engage the community. Floreani told the council then that the city would be eligible for more than $450,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to reimburse the paleBLUEdot contract’s costs, The Reader reported.

Now that the City has pursued the climate planning grant from the EPA, the Department of Energy money may be used to fund more specific climate initiatives, Floreani said.

“The Department of Energy funds could be used for implementation of projects that come out of the climate action plan,” Floreani said. He mentioned infrastructure for electric vehicles and community-wide renewable energy as ideas the department’s funding could help create. 

The $1 million regional grant could also impact climate action planning in the City of Council Bluffs. This would be Council Bluffs’ only shot at federal climate plan money as Iowa declined to apply for state-level Climate Pollution Grants funds. Nebraska was one of the first states to apply for its $3 million share.

As the lead organization pursuing the grant, the City of Omaha will be required to submit a priority climate action plan to the EPA by March 1, 2024. Then, the City must submit a comprehensive climate action plan by the summer or fall of 2025 and a final status report by the summer or fall of 2027.

The City of Council Bluffs could be included in those plans, Floreani said, however he has not been in contact with Council Bluffs officials. The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) submitted a letter of support for the City’s application to the EPA, according to MAPA information officer Sue Cutsforth.

“With MAPA’s regional focus, I hope there’s an opportunity to work with other communities such as Council Bluffs,” Floreani said.

A spokesperson for the City of Council Bluffs did not respond to The Reader’s requests for comment on the city’s climate change planning.

Along with Iowa, three other states — Florida, Kentucky and South Dakota — also declined their $3 million share of the EPA grant. That opened up $1 million in funding for 12 more metropolitan areas, including Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux Falls. The three regions have yet to submit a notice of intent to participate in the grants as of April 26, according to the EPA.

The grant program aligns with President Joe Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, an executive order that mandates that at least 40% of benefits of certain federal investments must go to “disadvantaged communities” that are overburdened by pollution and underinvestment. In response to the executive order, the Council on Environmental Quality created the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, a resource to identify communities experiencing the highest impacts of socio economic burdens including climate change, health, pollution and workforce development. Census tracts in North and South Omaha, as well as Council Bluffs, are identified on the map as “disadvantaged communities” requiring the most federal support.

The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool identifies areas of North and South Omaha, as well as Council Bluffs, as “disadvantaged communities” requiring the most federal support to combat climate change. Graphic from the Council on Environmental Quality.

In Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (NDEE) now has until March 1, 2024 to create a Priority Climate Action Plan. Officials highlighted their initial climate action plan initiatives in a press release; expanding climate resilient agriculture, adapting the grid, promoting soil health and using energy efficient and new technologies. NDEE has until March 2025 to submit its Comprehensive Climate Action Plan. The agency will also be required to submit a status report in 2027.

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Bridget Fogarty, Report for America Corps Member

Bridget Fogarty is a Report for America Corps member reporting with The Reader and its billingual (Spanish/English) sister publication El Perico.

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