In a positive start to 2021, and just a few short weeks following a joint press conference held by ASCE, the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President Trump signed into law the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act (S. 3418) on January 1; both the House and Senate passed the bill on voice vote in December 2020.
The Senate companion bill to the Resilience Revolving Loan Fund Act (H.R. 3779) was one of ASCE’s top legislative priorities in the 116th Congress. These bipartisan, bicameral bills were introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) in the House and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate. The success of this legislation would not have been possible without the hard work and advocacy of ASCE’s Key Contacts, who sent 582 emails to 190 Congressional offices this past fall.
This law creates a new “resilience revolving loan fund” program modeled after similar water programs (the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds) and will spur investment ahead of future disasters. Led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), this new revolving loan fund will be eligible for projects intended to protect against wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, storm surges, chemical spills, seepage resulting from chemical spills and floods, and any other event deemed catastrophic by FEMA. These low-interest funds will allow for cities and states to repay the loan with savings from mitigation projects. It also gives states and localities the flexibility to respond to oncoming disasters without paying high-interest rates so they can invest in their communities – cutting the red tape of having to wait on the federal government.
ASCE endorsed this bill because we believe it helps prioritize the nation’s need to build resiliently to withstand the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. was impacted by 16 separate billion-dollar disasters in 2020 alone, including 1 drought event, 11 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events, and 1 wildfire event. 2020 also marks the sixth executive year in which 10 or more separate billion-dollar disaster events have impacted our country. These disasters are costing our economy as much as 8 percent annually!
However, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For example, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every dollar spent on pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness saves six dollars in rebuilding costs after a storm. And according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins University 21st Century Cities Initiative and American Flood Coalition, every million dollars invested in flood infrastructure projects is associated with 40 new jobs in the construction and retail trade industries. That means every billion dollars invested could be associated with up to 40,000 new jobs across the country.
With limited funding dollars available, designing and building resilient infrastructure ensures that our investments last, which is why there is value in incorporating system resiliency into the decision-making process. This new resilience revolving loan fund program will help cities that so desperately need the funding to invest in projects that reduce damage and minimize risks of these deadlier and more catastrophic disasters. ASCE thanks our Key Contacts for their tireless advocacy to advance this legislation, as well as for the support of Congress and President Trump to push it over the finish line!