The bipartisan infrastructure deal struck this week provides new money for climate resilience unmatched in United States history: Tens of billions of dollars to protect against floods, reduce damage from wildfires, develop new sources of drinking water in areas plagued by drought, and even relocate entire communities away from vulnerable places.
But the bill is remarkable for another reason. For the first time, both parties have acknowledged — by their actions, if not their words — that the United States is unprepared for the worsening effects of climate change and requires an enormous and urgent infusion of money and effort to get ready.
“It’s difficult to oppose solutions to crises that your constituents are suffering through,” said Shalini Vajjhala, a former Obama administration official who now advises cities on preparing for climate threats. And as those threats become more frequent and widespread, “the constituency for climate resilience is now everybody.”
Climate Fwd There’s an ongoing crisis — and tons of news. Our newsletter keeps you up to date. Get it sent to your inbox.
When it comes to addressing the consequences of a warming planet, no amount of money appears to be too much, and bipartisan consensus is easy to find. Agreement between Republicans and Democrats to reduce the emissions that are causing the planet to warm is more elusive, as Republicans are largely resistant to limiting the use of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.
As a result, Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration are aiming to fold more aggressive climate action into a separate budget bill, which 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 fund natural gas and nuclear plants, among other things. But money to protect communities from sea level rise and extreme weather has few opponents.
“The climate crisis impacts both red states and blue states alike,” Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware and chairman of the environment and public works committee, said in a statement. Many of his Republican colleagues, he added, “have seen firsthand how calamitous the consequences can be if we fail to invest in resilience.”
The bill would also fundamentally transform the country’s approach to preparing for climate change.
Until recently, federal disaster policy has focused on spending money after a storm, wildfire or other calamity, to rebuild what was lost.
But a series of hugely destructive events — including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, record-breaking wildfires in California, this year’s winter storm in Texas and the drought now gripping the West — has challenged that logic, demonstrating the need to better protect homes, neighborhoods and facilities before disasters happen. [Continue reading…]