A Recognition in the Infrastructure Bill: Climate Change is a Crisis


two sided infrastructure agreement This week’s coup provides new cash for climate resilience, unprecedented in United States history: tens of billions of dollars to protect against floods, reduce damage from wildfires, develop new sources of drinking water in drought-affected areas, and even move entire communities away from vulnerable areas. .

But the bill is notable for another reason. For the first time, both sides acknowledged – through actions, if not words – that the United States is unprepared for the worsening effects of climate change and needs enormous and urgent money and effort to prepare.

“It’s hard to oppose solutions to the crises your voters are experiencing,” said Shalini Vajjhala, a former Obama administration official, and now advises cities to prepare for climate threats. And as these threats become more frequent and pervasive, “the voters of climate resilience are now everybody”.

No amount of money seems like much when it comes to addressing the consequences of a warming planet, and bipartisan consensus is easy to find. Agreement between Republicans and Democrats to reduce emissions that are warming the planet harderBecause Republicans are largely resistant to limiting the use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

As a result, Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration aim to turn the more aggressive climate action into a separate budget bill that Democrats hope to pass even without Republican votes.

The infrastructure bill, which could pass the Senate this week, still faces uncertainty in the House, where progressives oppose provisions to finance natural gas and nuclear power plants, among other things. But the money has little competitor to protect communities from sea level rise and extreme weather conditions.

“The climate crisis is affecting both red and blue states,” Senator Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat and chair of the environment and public works committee, said in a statement. He added that many of his Republican colleagues “have seen firsthand how disastrous the results can be if we don’t invest in resilience.”

The bill will also fundamentally change the way the country prepares for climate change.

Until recently, federal disaster policy focused on spending money to rebuild what was lost after a storm, wildfire, or other disaster.

But 2017’s Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are a series of extremely devastating events, including record-breaking wildfires in California this year. winter storm in texas and the drought now plaguing the West – defying this logic, demonstrated the need to better protect homes, neighborhoods and facilities before disasters strike.

The infrastructure bill reflects this change in different ways. Some of the money will strengthen programs that already exist, but that experts say are not at scale to meet the growing threat.

For example, the Army Corps of Engineers would receive $11.6 billion in additional construction funding for projects such as flood control and river dredging. That’s more than four times what Congress gave the Corps for construction last year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has its own program to reduce damage from flooding by purchasing or upgrading homes at risk of flooding. This program would more than triple its annual budget to $700 million.

Some of this money is allocated to homeowners in areas considered particularly vulnerable due to socioeconomic factors, including hosting racial minorities. FEMA faced criticism for providing Less money for black disaster survivors more than whites who survived, even if they suffered similar losses.

“It’s a game changer,” said Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, about the provision to focus on vulnerable neighborhoods.

FEMA would also receive an additional $1 billion for a grant program to protect communities against all kinds of disasters, and another $733 million to make the dams safer.

Other programs will see even more dramatic increases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive approximately $100 million annually to help restore coastal habitats and protect coastal communities—five times what the program currently spends.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water resources in the West, receives $20 million a year from Congress for desalination projects that remove minerals and salts from seawater to create fresh water, and another $65 million for water recycling. Those numbers would skyrocket: The bill includes $250 billion for desalination over five years and $1 billion for water recycling and reuse, meaning the process of treating wastewater to make it usable for new uses like irrigation.

Other funds in legislation will be directed to new programmes.

The bill will give the Department of Agriculture $500 million for what it calls “bushfire defense grants to communities at risk” – money that could help people make changes to their homes or landscapes to make them less vulnerable to fires, for example.

“This is a great first step,” said Kimiko Barrett, a researcher and policy analyst at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit wildfire policy consultancy in Montana. “We need to start creating communities that are adapted to living with this increased risk.”

Other programs will include not only reinforcing homes and facilities against disasters, but also removing them out of harm’s way.

The Department of Transportation would receive almost $9 billion for a program designed to help states prepare their highways for the effects of climate change – including removing roads from flood-prone areas. The Environmental Protection Agency will pay for communities to move drinking water pipelines and treatment plants at risk of being affected by flooding or other extreme weather conditions.

Funding in legislation will be available to move all communities. The bill will provide $216 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for climate resilience and adaptation to tribal nations. disproportionately hurt with climate change. More than half of that money, $130 million, would go to “community relocation” that helps Native Americans leave dangerous areas.

“The impacts and the costs are huge, it’s impossible to ignore now,” said Forbes Tompkins, who runs the flood-ready communities program at Pew Charitable Trusts. “We can look back and say that this year was the moment that made flexibility a national priority.”

Credit…New York Times

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