When Congress hit the start button one year ago on a massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid measure, it also sent a surge of spending toward environmental efforts.

The American Rescue Plan Act was largely directed at providing a financial stimulus to households and speeding the country’s response to the pandemic.

The rooftop of the Maycroft Apartments in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood is covered with 192 photovoltaic panels, squeezed in among air conditioning units, skylights and vents. Electricity generated by the solar array goes to the grid, earning the building’s residents sizable credits on their power bills. Credit: Timothy B. Wheeler

But the aid package also delivered $100 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was split in half: $50 million for environmental justice initiatives and $50 million for air-quality monitoring.

It also set aside $350 billion for states and local governments, with modest restraints on how it could be spent. The fate of much of that total is up in the air, as jurisdictions grapple with spending plans and, in some cases, the capacity to implement them.

Last summer’s first wave of payments largely went toward plugging budget gaps caused by the pandemic’s economic fallout. To prepare for the second wave, due to begin in May, many cities and counties over the past few months arranged in-person and online meetings to seek ideas for how to best spend the money. In some places, officials and community members are advocating for clean water and conservation projects, pointing out that some projects bring multiple benefits, such as outdoor space for recreation, “green” jobs and the reduction of urban “heat islands.”

All funds must be committed by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Across the Chesapeake Bay region, some funding announcements are trickling in. Here is a look at some of the recipients (and proposals) in the “green” sector.

District of Columbia

The District received $2.3 billion. As of the end of last August, the deadline for the first federal reporting period, the District had spent $83 million of that sum.

  • $16 million to the DC Department of Energy & Environment and the DC Sustainable Energy Utility to provide grants to “under-resourced” buildings to conduct energy audits and predevelopment design and construction work. Eligible facilities include senior care centers, schools, hospitals and places of worship.
  • $17.5 million to DOEE’s Solar for All program to provide solar energy assistance funds to an additional 3,800 low– and moderate-income households and install more community solar projects.


The act set aside about $3.9 billion for state government. This year’s budget swallowed about $2.1 billion of that sum. About $1.7 billion remains.

City and county governments across Maryland will divvy up a separate pot of $2.3 billion.

  • $200,000 for Baltimore’s YH2O mentoring program, an on-the-job training program for young adults. Participants are involved in water quality monitoring, sampling and reporting — skills that will help them transition into water infrastructure jobs. To be eligible, they must be 18–24 years old, have a high school diploma or GED and be unemployed or underemployed. The new funding is drawn from $50 million set aside nationwide from EPA funds dedicated to environmental justice.
  • $13,000 to the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury to develop materials for a new series of artwork highlighting Black experiences on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The funding comes from an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant program tied to the rescue plan.
  • $1.5 million to Baltimore County (proposed) to plant trees in less-affluent areas where the existing tree canopy is often thin.
  • $6.6 million to Baltimore County (proposed) to complete a living shoreline and aquatic habitat project along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
  • Nearly $23 million to Prince George’s County to address stormwater problems, flooding and stream restoration needs, including $2.3 million to develop a stormwater management plan. One of the projects will restore 3,100 linear feet of streams in the historically Black community of Eagle Harbor, where a nearby power plant has exacerbated flooding in recent years.


Virginia received $4.3 billion at the state level, while its cities and counties got $2.9 billion. The current state budget is absorbing $3.2 billion of the funding, leaving $1.1 billion to be spent in the future.

  • $50 million to the Department of Health to support equal access to clean drinking water in small and disadvantaged communities.
  • $125 million to the Department of Environmental Quality to help pay for sewage treatment plant upgrades aimed at reducing the frequency of overflows. Alexandria and Richmond would each receive $50 million, while Lynchburg would get $25 million. Each city must provide 100% matching funds.
  • $75 million to DEQ for septic, pipe and sewer system repairs and upgrades.
  • $2 million to Norfolk (proposed) to reduce flooding along Surrey Crescent, a residential road in the low-lying Larchmont/Edgewater neighborhood.
  • $850,000 to Norfolk Botanical Garden (proposed) to establish “Nature’s Wonderland,” which would include a new destination exhibit, renovations to the butterfly house and the creation of a staff-guided kayak program on Lake Whitehurst.
  • $1.5 million to Richmond to acquire land for new parks on the Southside, a historically underserved section of the city. The goal is to reduce the number of residents who don’t have access to park space within a 10-minute walk of their homes.
  • $19 million to Richmond in environmental spending, including $12.5 million in stormwater system upgrades and $1.5 million for a climate-risk assessment plan.
  • $1 million to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to be provided to Fairfax County for trail system connections at Lake Royal Park.
  • $25 million to DCR to cover outdoor recreation area maintenance and construction needs.


The act made available about $7.2 billion for the state government. The state’s current budget used about $1 billion of that total, leaving $6.2 billion to be spent by the 2026 deadline.

Federal officials allotted $6 billion for local governments in Pennsylvania. In Lebanon County, Palmyra Borough received $752,000 to bore a stormwater pipe below a rail line and extend the system elsewhere.

Also, bills are pending in the General Assembly that would apply more still funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to clean water projects across the state. 

This article was originally published on The Bay Journal.

Jeremy Cox

Jeremy Cox is a Bay Journal staff writer based in Maryland.

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