The Quad-Cities won’t seek a $1 million planning grant from the EPA to draw plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because of a lack of staff resources. 

Iowa was one of four states to decline its $3 million share of $250 million set aside for states and locales to do emission-reduction planning from the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Another $4.6 billion was set aside for implementation. The set-aside is part of the Biden administration’s goals to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 to ward off the worst impacts of climate change.  

That decision opened up funding for the three largest metropolitan areas in Iowa to opt-in for the funding. The big three in the Hawkeye State are multi-county areas in and around Des Moines, Davenport and Cedar Rapids.

Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City metro areas decided to apply.

Davenport’s metropolitan statistical area is actually four counties in Iowa and Illinois: Scott County in Iowa and Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties in Illinois. 

The Bi-State Regional Commission’s transportation policy committee voted unanimously to decline the grant opportunity at the recommendation of commission staff, said commission Executive Director Denise Bulat.

It’s a multi-year grant process that would’ve required significant staff resources that the commission doesn’t have, Bulat said.

The commission does some educational work with air quality and the environment, but it is among “many responsibilities” staff handle.

“It’s just a very prescriptive process, a very significant, four-year process, and we just did not have the staff capacity to do it,” Bulat said. 

According to the EPA’s application website, the grant requires applicants to submit a plan to reduce emissions in in three steps over four years, a high-level plan, a comprehensive plan and a status report. Eligible uses of the planning funding include for staffing, planning, outreach, modeling and analytical costs, such as purchasing software, studies and data collection.

The lead agency on the grant for Iowa City and Cedar Rapids multi-county metro areas — the East Central Iowa Council of Governments — has two staffers who plan to work on the grant. Plus, local governments of Linn County, Johnson County, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids are dedicating staff resources to the planning, said Jennifer Fencl, Environmental Services Director for ECICOG. 

Iowa City, for example, already has a climate action plan that Fencl said she’s hoping some projects can be eligible for future implementation funding. 

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson, who’s on the Bi-State transportation committee, said although he supported the cause, the logistics of carrying out the requirements weren’t feasible for the Bi-State or individual governments. 

“This sounded good,” Matson said. “But at the end of the day the amount of work, lack of staff and regulatory agencies not wanting to take it up, it just wasn’t viable.”

The City Council in 2021 passed a resolution that supported city strategies and programs to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the impact of city operations on the environment and improve air and water quality. Among Davenport’s efforts is its plans to replace four older diesel buses with four electric ones to its fleet by 2024, thanks to a $4.8 million Federal Transit Administration grant

Unlike Iowa, Illinois opted in for the funding, accepting the $3 million grant to plan for reducing emissions across the state. Chicago also gets $1 million for planning since it’s among the 67 most populous cities in the country. 

Bulat said Bi-State approached the Illinois EPA, the agency doing the planning for Illinois, to ask if it could add Scott County. But, Bulat said, the grant requires a plan for the four-county area, and she said the Illinois EPA declined to take that on, citing staff capacity. 

“Illinois is a very large state; that will already be a heavy lift for the Illinois EPA,” Bulat said. 

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Sarah Watson

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