States should use Biden EPA’s climate slush fund for outdoor LED lighting

Most Americans know that the Biden administration is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into subsidizing wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles via the so-called Inflation Reduction Act.

However, the administration is also dolling out $5 billion through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for states and metropolitan areas to develop plans that would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

While many states will likely waste this money by pursuing expensive purchases that will do little to reduce emissions like building “bullet” trains to nowhere or other green-energy boondoggles, the most cost-effective way to use these funds is for states and municipalities to replace their outdoor lighting from high-pressure sodium fixtures to Light Emitting Diode, or LED, bulbs.

It’s fair to be critical of these grants as a matter of principle, but if the federal government is going to hand out vast sums of taxpayer money, state, and local governments should seek to use it to generate the best returns for their citizens, which is what replacing outdoor lighting with LEDs would do.

LED Street Light Conversion: A Cost-Effective Use of Climate Pollution Reduction Grants

EPA is administering a $5 billion fund for Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) to assist eligible entities, including states and metropolitan areas, with the development and implementation of plans for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[1] Initial grants are noncompetitive and provide resources to develop the GHG-reduction plans necessary to apply for competitive implementation grants, which will be announced later this year. EPA anticipates providing implementation grants with a wide range of funding levels, some potentially exceeding $100 million. Deadlines for the CPRG program begin March 31, 2023, although interested entities should submit a Notice of Intent to Participate (NOIP) to EPA as soon as possible.

Program Overview

The CPRG program will provide grants to states, territories, municipalities, air pollution control agencies, tribes, and groups thereof to develop and implement plans for reducing GHG emissions. This two-staged grant program provides $250 million for noncompetitive planning grants, followed by over $4.6 billion for competitive implementation grants.

Applications are currently open for planning grants. To receive these funds, interested entities must submit a NOIP to EPA and designate a lead organization to manage grant funds and oversee plan development. The lead organization will then coordinate with EPA to submit an application in the form of a narrative workplan, preferably less than 15 pages, for executing the planning grant.

Planning grant recipients must use the funds to produce a Priority Climate Action Plan (PCAP), which is a prerequisite to competing for implementation grants. A PCAP is a narrative report that includes a focused list of near-term, high-priority, implementation-ready measures to reduce GHG emissions. Plans can focus on specific sectors and need not comprehensively address all sources of GHG emissions. They must include the relevant GHG inventory; quantified GHG reduction measures; analysis of benefits to low-income and disadvantaged communities; and a review of implementation authority. States must coordinate with municipalities and air pollution control agencies within their borders to include priority measures for those entities to implement as well.

Planning grant recipients must also produce a Comprehensive Climate Action Plan and a status update, but these are due two and four years after the initial grant, respectively, and after implementation, grants will have been distributed.

Benefits of LED Street Light Conversion as CPRG Projects

The ability of a PCAP to focus on emissions from a particular sector makes LED street light conversion a promising option for the CPRG program. Most street lights in the United States are high-pressure sodium fixtures. Because these lights are inefficient and ubiquitous, they typically account for a quarter or more of a city’s electricity usage[2] and thus a significant portion of city electricity-sector GHG emissions and taxpayer expenditures.

LED street lights, by contrast, require less maintenance and are more energy efficient. They can reduce electricity usage and thus GHG emissions by an average of 66 percent.[3] And because of the relatively low cost of conversion and large electricity savings, most conversions have payback periods of between 4 and 8 years.[4] As a result, eligible entities could use CPRG funding efficiently to reduce GHG emissions while realizing additional cost savings. McKinsey & Company has previously identified LED lighting as among the most cost-effective investments to reduce GHG emissions—unlike many other GHG reduction projects, LED lighting conversions actually save money, costing negative $180 per ton of GHG emissions reduced.[5]

LED street light conversions can benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities, consistent with the environmental justice and fair treatment goals of the CPRG program.[6] Adequate street lighting is also important for city safety,[7] and LEDs can help to improve street lighting because they create a more directed and even spread of light and minimize dark spots.[8]

Additionally, LED lights can minimize light pollution, which has likewise been linked to environmental justice.[9] The International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA) recommends using lights that minimize glare and reduce light trespass and skyglow.[10] LEDs are well suited for this, as they can be shielded and directed, set up to dim or turn off when they are not needed, and can use narrow-spectrum amber fixtures with color temperatures of no more than 3000 Kelvins.[11]

How to Apply

Full details for how to apply, including EPA’s CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance and sample application materials, are available on EPA’s website at:

Upcoming Key Dates for States

  • By March 31, 2023, the lead organization for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico must submit a NOIP to [email protected]. Sample NOIPs are available on EPA’s website, with additional details in Section 7 of CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance.
  • By April 28, 2023, the lead organization for each state must use to submit a complete planning grant application, including a workplan and budget for the planning grant. These materials must contain the information listed in Section 8 of CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance.

Upcoming Key Dates for Metropolitan Areas

  • By April 28, 2023, the lead organization for each metropolitan area must submit a NOIP to [email protected]. Sample NOIPs are available on EPA’s website, with additional details in Section 7 of CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance.
  • By May 31, 2023, the lead organization for each metropolitan area must use to submit a complete planning grant application, including a workplan and budget for the planning grant. These materials must contain all the information listed in Section 8 of CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance.

Upcoming Informational Webinars

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact EPA about their workplan and budget prior to submitting their application. EPA Regional Offices expect to award planning grants by Summer 2023.

[1] See Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, Pub. L. No. 117-169, sec. 60114, § 137 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 7437).

[2] CityLab Insights & Northeast Group, LLC, The Benefits of LED & Smart Street Lighting 4 (2018),‌-/‌media/‌solutions/‌what-we-enable/smart-cities/intelligent-streetlights/the-benefits-of-led-and-smart-street-lighting.pdf.

[3] Id. at 10.

[4] Id.

[5] A Revolutionary Tool for Cutting Emissions, Ten Years On,McKinsey & Co.: New at McKinsey Blog (Apr. 21, 2017),

[6] See, e.g., EPA, CPRG Planning Grants Program Guidance 8 (Mar. 1, 2023) (“Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.”),‌EPA‌%‌20CPRG%‌20Planning%‌20Grants%‌20Program%20Guidance%20for%20States-Municipalities-Air%‌20‌Agencies‌%‌2003-01-2023.pdf.

[7] Practice Profile: Improved Street Lighting: Meta-Analysis Outcomes, Nat’l Inst. of Justice (Mar. 9, 2015),‌‌ratedpractices/38 (“[I]mproved street lighting interventions . . . decreased [crime] by 21 percent in treatment areas compared with comparison areas.”).

[8] LED Street Light Conversion Program, City of Portland, (last visited Mar. 3, 2023).

[9] Shawna M. Nadybal et al., Light Pollution Inequities in the Continental United States: A Distributive Environmental Justice Analysis, Env. Rsch. (2020),‌10.1016/‌j.envres.2020.109959.

[10] Outdoor Lighting Basics, IDSA,‌lighting/‌lighting-for-citizens/‌lighting-basics/ (last visited Mar. 1, 2023).

[11] Id.; see also Find Dark Sky Friendly Lighting, IDSA,‌our-work/‌lighting/‌lighting-for-industry/‌fsa/‌fsa-products/ (last visited Mar. 1, 2023).