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Infrastructure Bill makes the first major U.S. investment in climate resilience

Infrastructure Bill makes the first major U.S. investment in climate resilience

WASHINGTON — The $1 trillion infrastructure bill now headed to President Biden’s desk includes the largest amount of money ever spent by the United States to prepare the nation to withstand the devastating impacts of climate change.

The $47 billion in the bill designated for “climate resilience” is intended to help communities prepare for the new age of extreme fires, floods,Scientists believe that climate change has made droughts and storms worse.

The most direct signal yet from the federal government is the money. It is the first indication that the economic costs of a warming world are already being felt. Its approval in Congress with bipartisan support reflects the fact that it was approved. implicit acknowledgment of that fact by at least some Republicans, even though many of the party’s leaders still question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change.

“It’s a big deal, and we’ll build up our resilience for the next storm, drought, wildfires and hurricanes that indicate a blinking code red for America and the world,” Mr. Biden said in a speech in late October.

Still in limbo on Capitol Hill, however, is a second, much larger spending bill that is packed full of $555 trillionIt is intended to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. trapping heatGlobal warming is being driven up.

On Friday, House Democratic leaders were on the brink of bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. However, they had to abandon the plans after not having enough support from their own caucus. They hope to have a vote before Thanksgiving.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in the infrastructure bill to help us prepare for climate upheaval, but that package does very little to affect emissions, and therefore won’t prevent climate upheaval,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, one of the most prominent champions of climate action in Congress.

“It’s significant that we could get a significant bipartisan measure that recognized that climate change was real and we need to protect our infrastructure against its impacts,” said Mr. Whitehouse. “But it’s not enough to just do repair work. We need to prevent the worse scenarios.”

The government spending is far below the level of action that scientific reports recommend to prevent or prepare for the worst effects of climate change.

While the infrastructure bill would spend $47 billion to prepare the nation for worsening floods, fires and storms, in 2018, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment estimated that adapting to climate change could ultimately cost “tens to hundreds of billions of dollars per year.”

Still, experts and lawmakers call the level of spending for “climate resilience” in the infrastructure bill historic, particularly after four years in which former President Donald J. Trump denied the established science of climate change, decimated environmental regulations and withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord.

“This greatly exceeds anything we were able to get under the Obama administration,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw planning for climate risks on the National Security Council while Mr. Obama was president. “We’ve made enormous progress.”

The bill’s climate resilience spending was remarkable for something that is rarely achieved in congressional debates on climate policy: bipartisan support.

A handful of Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill and were heavily involved in the development of climate resilience provisions. They were motivated by the recognition that global warming is already affecting their constituents.

With the passage of the bill, Senator Bill Cassidy (Republican from Louisiana), will see more money flowing to his state. In September, Hurricane Ida caused at least 82 deaths and left millions without power in Louisiana. This storm was a stark reminder of the devastation climate change will continue causing.

Mr. Cassidy called the bill “the largest investment in infrastructure and coastal resiliency in the history of Louisiana.”

“There’s people living in Lexington Parish, for example, flooded in 2016, whose lives — everything in their life was destroyed,” he said. “The pictures of their children, the wedding dress in which they married, the home in which they lived, which had never flooded before — the fact that we are helping our fellow Americans avoid that gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction.”

Federal funds in the millions will be flowing to other communities across the country that have been affected or are likely to be affected by extreme weather events, which scientists believe are becoming more frequent and more damaging due to climate change.

These climate effects are already being felt in every corner the United States.

There were 22 climate disasters that cost at least $1 billion each in The 2020 United States record will be broken by the United States, breaking the previous record of 16 events that occurred in 2017 and 2011. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

This year, that record is set to be broken again. This summer, the hottestRecord breaking wildfires decimated large swathes of California, while a deadly heat wave ravaged the Pacific Northwest. Numerous people were killed in flash floods that struck New York and New Jersey once every 200 years.

“It’s rare that you ever have the financial resources — any financial resources — for resilience,” said Al Leonard, the town planner for Fair Bluff, a small town in eastern North Carolina struggling to recover from repeated floods. “When there’s some federal money or state money that becomes available, it really is manna from heaven.”

This measure will provide money to existing programs that help address the impacts of climate change.

The Army Corps of Engineers will receive $11.6 billion more in construction funds to support projects such as flood control and river dredging. That’s more than four times the amount Congress gave the Corps last year for construction.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a program to reduce flooding damage by buying or elevating flood-prone homes. The program’s annual budget will more than triple to $700 million and it will also receive new funding for similar programs.

One community that may be eligible for flood prevention funding is Three Forks in Montana. It lies at the confluence between the Jefferson, Gallatin, and Madison Rivers and is at high risk of flooding according to FEMA floodplain maps.

Earlier this year, the city’s staff and mayor designed a plan to prevent such flooding, by directing floodwaters into a dry river channel. Patricia Hernandez, Headwaters Economics director, stated that the town applied for federal funds, but did not receive them. Headwaters Economics is a nonpartisan Montana-based research group that studies the financial consequences of climate change.

“Now, with this bill, they are likely to get that money,” Ms. Hernandez said. “And their flood risk reduction project will also help the region’s housing affordability and economy.”

The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing water supplies in the West. It now receives $20 million per year from Congress for desalination projects. These projects remove minerals and salts from ocean water to make fresh water. Another $65 million is for water recycling. These numbers will rise dramatically with the passage of the legislation. The bill includes $250m for desalination projects over five years and $1billion for water recycling and reuse. This is the process that treats waste water to make it suitable for new uses like irrigation.

Other funding is available to support new ideas. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $492 million to map and forecast inland and coastal flooding, including “next-generation water modeling activities.” NOAA would also get $50 million to predict, model and forecast wildfires.

The Department of Agriculture is on track to receive $500 million for what it calls “wildfire defense grants to at-risk communities” — money that could help people make changes to their homes or landscape, for example, to make them less vulnerable to fires.

The bill also provides $216 Million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to help tribal nations adapt to climate change and adapt to it. disproportionately hurtClimate change. More than half of that money, $130 million, is to go toward “community relocation” — moving groups of Indigenous Americans away from vulnerable areas.

The plan also provides funding for the Department of Transportation to send money to states to move flood-prone highways. The Environmental Protection Agency will pay communities to relocate drinking water infrastructure that is at risk of flooding or other extreme weather.

Experts in climate change warn that spending on climate adaptation should not be considered a down payment. Without billions of dollars in additional money and aggressive action for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the cost of adapting to global warming will only rise over the next few years.

“Fifty billion dollars for resilience is both transformational and totally inadequate,” said Shalini Vajjhala, executive director of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center, a nonprofit associated with the Brookings Institution.

“If you compare the total to some of the largest resilient infrastructure projects being planned in the U.S., it’s tiny,” Ms. Vajjhala said. “This is progress, not perfection.”

Emily CochraneContributed reporting

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