Republicans try new bad-faith attack on Build Back Better plan

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Congressional Republicans are mocking the concept of 'tree equity,' which would fund a wave of new jobs and plant trees in neighborhoods without any.

Congressional Republicans have settled on a new line of attack against President Joe Biden's $1.75 trillion Build Back Better climate and jobs framework: It would mean more trees in urban areas.

On Thursday, Biden announced a newly revised package that would invest billions in climate and caregiving infrastructure. Its largest item would be $555 billion for fighting climate change and expanding clean energy.

Republicans have unanimously opposed the package thus far, falsely claiming it is secretly the Green New Deal, will hurt lower- and middle-income families, and will rack up more debt.

More recently, they have seized on a little-known term in the package, taking aim at a $2.5 billion line item to plant more trees in places that don't have many.

On Monday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweeted a photo of that line item in the legislation.

"Dems' far-left spending bill exposed:$2.5 BILLION of American taxpayer money for 'tree equity.' RT so everyone sees! Don't let them get away with sneaking this through," he wrote, accompanying the message with red siren emojis.

Several members of his caucus followed suit.

"You can't make this stuff up," Florida Rep. Brian Mast wrote, quote-tweeting Scalise's message.

Ohio Rep. Troy Balderson called the line item "yet another shining example of how out-of-touch this reckless spending spree truly is."

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) joined in as well, suggesting that Biden's poll numbers "have collapsed" because the president was focused on addressing gender discrimination and on "spending billions on 'tree equity.'"

(Biden's approval numbers have indeed dipped to 42% from 53% in April and 49% in August, according to NBC News; that's lower than most other presidencies at the same point in their tenure, but higher than former President Donald Trump's figures in the fall of 2017, per Gallup statistics, the outlet noted.)

Experts have taken a markedly different position on the issue.

According to American Forests, a charitable nonprofit that works to create "healthy and resilient forests, from cities to large natural landscapes," tree equity means "ensuring there are trees in every part of every city."

The group notes, "A map of tree cover in America's cities is too often a map of income and race. ... Trees are often sparse in neighborhoods with more low-income families and people of color."

Tree equity, in other words, means making sure the benefits trees provide — including cleaner air and cooler temperatures — are available to everyone. And foresting treeless regions could also result in thousands of new jobs.

Planting trees may play a huge part in reducing the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. According to a 2019 Science report, planting more trees could reduce atmospheric carbon levels by a quarter.

Even Trump, a staunch critic of most climate initiatives, embraced the idea of improving the environment through reforestation, planting a maple tree at the White House on his final Earth Day in office.

"On this special occasion, we are renewing our strong national commitment on conserving the wonder of God's creation," he said at the time.

Trump also signed an executive order creating an interagency council with the goal of planting a trillion more trees globally. "The Trillion Tree Executive Order," Trump's Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue argued in October 2020, "further demonstrates the Administration's commitment and leadership in ensuring our national forests are healthy and productive so they can continue to meet the needs of citizens and communities, both now and into the future."

Congressional Republicans lauded the move at the time.

"Trees are the lungs of the earth. They take in CO2, and they release oxygen. When we plant a #TrillionTrees around the world, it will eliminate two-thirds of all man-made carbon created since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.