How the infrastructure plan can accelerate resilience
Passing President Biden’s infrastructure bill would be the most important step we have taken as a nation to start tackling climate change head-on.
Greenbelt Alliance believes this infrastructure bill is a good start. Yet, so far, there is no way to guide how we can fairly abandon reconstruction in the most climate-vulnerable areas and instead build for a more resilient future. That is why we recommend that this infrastructure bill and related measures adopt these three principles as a simple but transformational path:
• Rebuild better: Ensure that all new construction meets the highest resilience standards and that no investments are made in areas that could put people at risk.
Federal investments are governed by many regulations, some of which make it difficult, if not impossible, to integrate risk and resilience. For example, federal funds used to help people rebuild after a disaster explicitly precludes any improvement in the sustainability or resilience of reconstructed structures. This means that communities facing reconstruction cannot incorporate improvements such as adding more resilient wastewater treatment systems or buffers of green space around a neighborhood that would reduce the risk of flooding or damage. future fires.
• A just transition to resilience: Ensure low income communities are prioritized and protected throughout all infrastructure investments and beyond. Programs like the National Flood Insurance Program and California’s FAIR Fire Insurance Plan aim to ensure that vulnerable homeowners don’t lose everything in a disaster, but these programs do not include incentives. to increase resilience. This type of program can be transformed to support our most vulnerable residents while preparing us all to reduce future risks. This process will require us to face some tough tradeoffs, including significantly raising rates to more accurately reflect risk, and encouraging both resilience investments and downside management where appropriate.
• Help nature to help us: Require all federal investments to assess and prioritize nature-based solutions to meet infrastructure needs.
In the United States, despite an uneven environmental record in many ways, we continue to have incredible natural assets that provide a myriad of benefits such as wildlife and health habitat and recreational opportunities, as well as increasingly important climate-related benefits such as carbon capture, flood protection and water retention.
Governor Gavin Newsom and President Biden have signed the international goal of protecting 30% of our state and nation’s land by 2030. We can leverage these lands to reduce the risk of fire and flooding if we prioritize the conservation of areas that offer the most resilience benefits. .
Recent searches in the San Francisco Bay area Using natural sediments to reduce the risk of flooding is an example of how we can think creatively to ensure that people and nature can thrive together. This report highlights how sediment from bay dredging projects is currently being dumped at sea at a significant cost, as the wetlands around the bay are in dire need of more sediment to support them to survive as they grow. the sea level is rising.
These wetlands protect riparian communities against the risk of flooding. Yet to achieve this win-win solution, local, state and federal agencies and officials must both change regulations and think more holistically about how to integrate climate resilience into all projects. Biden’s infrastructure bill should provide the framework and the incentives to do so.
This nation is currently on the path to making a significant generational investment in infrastructure. This must include a deep commitment to investments that help our communities reduce their increased risks from climate change and also ways to help people get out of harm’s way before it’s too late.
Amanda Brown-Stevens heads the San Francisco-based Greenbelt Alliance, a 60-year-old nonprofit dedicated to preserving open spaces and helping the Bay Area prioritize climate action .