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Key Obstacles Prevent America’s Mayors From Tapping Into the IRA’s Potential, According to Survey of U.S. Mayors

Mayors Cite Staff Capacity, Local Permitting Processes, and Lack of Public Knowledge as Challenges to Navigate IRA Grants

Findings Among Those from the Boston University Initiative on Cities’ Menino Survey of Mayors

New York, NY | March 7, 2024 – The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) represents a generational investment in addressing climate change, and local governments are key to bringing these climate-friendly infrastructure projects to reality. Yet, six-in-ten mayors said that the IRA has had only a little impact on their community or no impact at all, and mayors from across the country believe that there are significant challenges to realizing the IRA’s potential, including local permitting processes and a general lack of public knowledge about the law’s provisions.

These are some of the findings from the 2023 Menino Survey of Mayors, the only nationally representative survey of America’s mayors conducted annually by Boston University’s Initiative on Cities. The full report, “Building for a Green Future: Cities and the IRA,” explores mayors’ views on early IRA implementation and issues ranging from clean energy and permitting to public messaging and capacity challenges.

“The choices local governments make on policies like land use and zoning, building codes, and community input process will have a profound impact on the successful implementation of the IRA,” said Katherine Levine Einstein, Menino Survey Co-Author, and Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University.

When asked an open-ended ques􀆟on about how easy or difficult it has been for their city to take advantage of the IRA’s programs, 45% of mayors described the process as difficult. They regularly commented on the perceived complexity of the IRA’s application process, and multiple mayors highlighted the importance of capacity, which tends to be higher in larger cities. Unsurprisingly, bigger cities were 13 percentage points more likely than smaller cities to rate participation in the IRA as easy (29% versus 16%).

Mayors also called out a lack of knowledge among the broader public about programs available to individual households, including support for residential heat pump and solar panel installations. When asked about the top two constraints on heat pump uptake among residents, almost 70% of mayors cited public confusion or lack of knowledge of the programs. The next most popular option, by a distant margin, was cost or homeowners’ lack of funds (34%). Mayors’ views around top constraints on solar panel uptake among residents were fairly similar: almost 70% highlighted confusion or lack of knowledge about federal subsidies supporting solar and just over 50% said cost or lack of funds.

If public confusion or lack of knowledge are indeed obstacles, local leaders have a communications role to play. Mayors believe that the best messaging to encourage adoption of climate-friendly technologies involves emphasizing both the climate and non-climate benefits of these innovations: 65% of mayors said that optimal messaging for such technologies would highlight climate benefits, but less than the other benefits, while just 27% endorse discussing climate benefits more than other benefits.

“The opportunities funded through the Inflation Reduction Act move us closer to healthy, just, and sustainable cities. In Cleveland, we’re leveraging these funds to invest good-paying, clean and green economy jobs as well as the education and training pipelines for those jobs.” said Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb. “But collectively, as mayors, we need to do a better job of translating how climate policy and justice directly impacts the daily lives of our residents. We also need to help better educate our communities on the incentives and technologies available to them through the IRA.”

The clean energy technologies funded by the IRA, such as solar panels, solar arrays, and heat pumps, require building new infrastructure on a small or large scale. Mayors see community opposition to new development extending to at least some environmental issues. When asked to rank which use of space would generate the most opposition among their residents, the most frequently selected options by mayors were transmission lines (41%) and wind turbines (33%). Low-rise multifamily housing was cited by only 24% of mayors. These results are striking; despite well-documented and deeply entrenched opposition to new housing, mayors believe that some clean energy infrastructure investments are even more politically toxic. Indeed, 40% of mayors actually said that low-rise multifamily housing would attract the least opposition among these potential development projects (the most popular response to this formula􀆟on of the question was ground solar arrays, cited by 41% of mayors).

“The IRA and other federal legislation will catalyze more than $1 trillion in public and private investment, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to channel funding into underserved communities across the U.S.,” said Maria Kozloski, Senior Vice President of Economic Equity at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The Menino Survey of Mayors offers insight into how cities can better access this funding—and how those investing in cities can work together—to ensure this capital reaches the neighborhoods and people who need it most.”

Other key findings:

  • Local permitting processes engender a fragmented regulatory environment that is challenging for clean energy companies to navigate. While a minority of mayors acknowledge the problems introduced by a proliferation of local regulations, a strong majority prefer maintaining greater local control: almost 90% of mayors wanted strong local control over environmental regulations, with local governments either exceeding state standards or seeing their own. Just over 80% of mayors wanted similar levels of local control over building codes.
  • Mayors were strongly supportive of statewide legislation that would facilitate the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) — an additional, small housing unit added to an existing housing lot — by streamlining the permitting process. Six-in-ten mayors endorsed adopting a law similar to California and Oregon’s legislation permitting property owners to construct ADUs without going through a lengthy permitting process.
  • This support for state-imposed streamlining of local land use regulations does not extend to all pieces of legislation: a majority of mayors (53%) opposed statewide legislation like that in Oregon and Montana that banned single-family zoning and allowed the construction of duplexes in all lots “by right” in cities over a certain size.

The Menino Survey of Mayors, named a􀅌er the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino and supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, is an annual project to understand the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors from large and mid-size (over 75,000 residents) cities. In total, 118 mayors from 39 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2023, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally.

Additional findings from the 2023 Menino Survey can be found here.

About the Initiative on Cities

The Boston University Initiative on Cities leads research in, on, and with cities in pursuit of sustainable, just, and inclusive urban transformation. We marshal the talents and resources of wide-ranging disciplines across Boston University spanning the social, natural, computational, and health sciences. The Menino Survey is named for the late Mayor Tom Menino, who co-founded the Initiative on Cities in 2014 following 20 years as mayor of Boston. Additional information may be found at and at

About The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy built on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology, and innovation that enable individuals, families, and communities to flourish. We make big bets to promote the well-being of humanity. Today, we are focused on advancing human opportunity and reversing the climate crisis by transforming systems in food, health, energy, and finance. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on X @RockefellerFdn.

Stacy Fox

Initiative on Cities

Davina Dukuly

The Rockefeller Foundation