Select Committee wisely eyes climate resilience investments

C2ES recently highlighted how the mitigation measures recommended by majority staff of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis align closely with the recommendations of our Getting to Zero agenda.

Since it is almost entirely certain we will have to adapt to a broad range of likely permanent impacts even under the most optimistic circumstances, it’s also important to note the report’s significant focus on policies to strengthen our resilience to the effects of climate change. The report makes recommendations across a number of sectors, prioritizing funding for the needs of marginalized communities throughout.

Resilience was one of the items highlighted by the Select Committee’s Republican members as a potential area of bipartisan progress. “Bipartisan recommendations to increase the resilience of our communities and address global emissions — while strengthening the American economy and getting families back to work — are worth pursuing,” said a joint statement from the Republican members.

Here are a number of recommendations in the majority staff report that we think are viable in the near- term and that have bipartisan support, evidenced by related bills making their way through Congress:

Climate Risk Information

State and local decisionmakers need comprehensive and accessible climate risk information to prepare for climate impacts. Though the federal government provides observational climate data, climate model projections, and tools through various agency programs and crosscutting efforts such as the U.S. Global Change Research Program, local stakeholders are still often unaware of which data they should use and how they can use it. What’s needed is an authoritative federal source for climate risk information that would serve as a hub of information from agencies and private research institutions, fill key gaps, and provide accessible tools for local stakeholders to put information into practice. The Climate Risk Information Service that the majority report recommends could fill this gap. The bipartisan Built to Last Act of 2020 also recognizes the need for consistent federal meteorological information and technical assistance for local stakeholders to use it. We highlighted the need for improved climate information in our comments to the Select Committee and recommended a similar federal information service in our 2013 brief Federal Action on Climate Change and Clean Energy. That body could be of even greater use today as climate impacts continue to worsen.

Federal Resilience Funding

Proactively investing in resilience can provide a six-fold return on taxpayer investments by reducing both the impacts of disasters and the costs of recovery borne by the nation. The federal government should increase investments in resilience, ensuring that post-disaster recovery funds prioritize building back better. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program is some of the most flexible federal money provided to cities, counties, and states after major disasters. It can be used for a broad range of activities related to the restoration of infrastructure and housing, mitigation to protect from future damage, and economic revitalization. While these funds are more flexible, they must be authorized by Congress after a disaster and eligibility requirements can change for each new appropriation, creating a complex granting process that is often slow to deliver funding to communities and misses opportunities to build resiliently. To address these issues, the majority report recommends permanently authorizing the CDBG-DR program and establishing a central HUD office to help communities plan for resilience. The bipartisan Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019 also seeks to authorize this program. In our recent Restoring the Economy with Climate Solutions, we recommended CDBG authorization and that the program should prioritize efforts to evaluate climate risks to the grid and other community infrastructure.

Infrastructure Resilience

From transportation networks to water systems to the electric grid, our infrastructure needs to be built and maintained for a changing climate. The electric grid, specifically, is in many ways the backbone of our economy, but much of the system was not built to withstand more extreme weather impacts, making reliability a concern. To address this, the majority report recommends a comprehensive federal strategy on grid resilience including a Department of Energy (DOE) grant program for cities and states to harden power infrastructure, as well as investments in innovation for advanced transmission technologies and distributed energy resources. Similar strategies are recommended in the bipartisan  Utility Resilience and Reliability Act. The C2ES Getting to Zero climate agenda recognizes the need for federal leadership and recommends that the government create a comprehensive strategy to create a 21st century grid – one that is both resilient to climate impacts and optimizes electricity generation. In the near term, DOE should also provide significant cost-share for private sector projects that proactively address aging infrastructure as well as protect it from physical threats.

While Republican members of the Select Committee have voiced concerns over the process that produced the majority staff report, and have yet to comment on its details, they’ve signaled an openness to finding areas of common ground. Resilience is an ideal place to start. We encourage members on both sides of the Committee to demonstrate bipartisan progress on climate.