ASCE Recommendations Adopted in House Climate Crisis Action Plan

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This week, the Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released their “Climate Crisis Action Plan,” which includes many of the recommendations that ASCE made in our letter to the Committee late last year. Our letter stated, in part:

“Civil engineers work to harden existing and build new infrastructure to better withstand challenges from a changing climate, operating under the assumption that hazard events will continue with increasing regularity and severity. Plainly put, our future depends on resilient infrastructure and – as civil engineers – we think about building infrastructure that will sustainably last for 50 or 100 years or more to maximize lifecycle benefits…

In addition to anticipating what hazards and conditions roads, bridges, drinking water pipes, wastewater treatment plants, airports, and energy lines must withstand, engineers are also thinking through how technology, population shifts, and other trends will change communities’ needs. In summary, an integrated systems approach is needed to tackle resiliency.”

Not only does the Climate Crisis Action Plan highlight ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card, but it includes our recommendations on adopting consensus-based and resilience-based codes and standards; support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program; the need for a federal flood risk management standard; programs that boost grid resilience, advance the research and development of climate science, and support innovative-technology based solutions that build resilience; and the use of Lifecycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) for all federal projects greater than $5 million. Investing in community resilience must include rebuilding and building using resilience-based codes and standards—a key recommendation in this report. ASCE standards are developed using a rigorous and consensus based process that relies on technical experts and  the best available science and research from federal agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop tailored standards for the hazard threats in specific regions of the United States. We encourage policymakers to look at successful existing standards for adoption such as ASCE 7, Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures (ASCE/SEI 7-16); ASCE 24, Flood Resistant Design and Construction; and ASCE 41, Seismic Evaluation and Retrofit of Existing Buildings; as well as best practice guides such as the ASCE Manual of Practice 140, Climate-Resilient Infrastructure: Adaptive Design and Risk Management.

The action plan also contains other ASCE priorities, including increased funding for public transit, the nation’s rail network, the Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA), the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs, the National Dam Safety Program, the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program; fully funding the National Levee Safety Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund; support for the Outdoors for All Act and the Water Quality Protection & Job Creation Act; the creation of programs that support resilient infrastructure systems across the infrastructure spectrum, maximize energy efficiency, incentivize carbon pollution reductions through projects such as transit and bicycle infrastructure, leverage data and technology for climate-smart transportation planning, encourage zero and near zero carbon modes of travel such as biking and walking; extending the tax credit for maintenance and upgrades of short-line railroads; and requiring states to use “complete streets” when designing and implementing transportation projects.

Additionally, the over 500-page Climate Crisis Action Plan calls for the nation to hit net-zero emissions by 2050; creates a National Climate Adaptation Program to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change; recommends that new cars sold by 2035 emit no greenhouse gas emissions; builds new transmission infrastructure to support intermittent wind and solar power; recommends prioritizing environmental justice communities for investments in clean energy infrastructure; and requires companies to pay for emitting carbon dioxide, with the money directed back to low- and moderate-income households. The think tank Energy Innovation found that if all the recommendations were enacted, they would provide $8 billion in climate benefits through 2050. The policies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 2010 levels by 2030 and 88% by 2050.

This action plan is especially timely considering the new report that was just released by the First Street Foundation that finds an estimated 14.6 million homes nationwide face flooding in line with those in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) 100-year floodplain. FEMA maps currently classify 8.7 million homes as carrying substantial risk. This figure climbs to 16.2 million homes by 2050 when the effects of climate change are included. ASCE supports increased funding to FEMA’s flood mapping program to help the federal government update its flood maps. Current federal funding for mitigation, preparedness, research, and standards has been insufficient to provide the resources necessary for mitigating natural and man-made disasters. Robust federal funding is critical to the health and safety of the nation, its citizens, and the resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure. In fact, resilience is so important to our nation’s infrastructure that it’s one of the eight key criteria used for assessment in our Infrastructure Report Card.

As we have seen the past few years, the number of heavy rainstorms that cause flooding, hurricanes, wildfires, and other extreme weather events are becoming more common. According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, the U.S. has experienced 40 hurricanes identified as billion-dollar disasters since 1980, using 2018 inflation-adjusted dollars, with a cumulative damage estimate of $862 billion. Hurricane Maria in 2017 took the lives of nearly 3,000 people; the combination of Hurricane Maria with Hurricanes Irma and Harvey cost $268 billion, or 31% of the combined damage since 1980 – making it the most expensive hurricane season in 38 years. The effects of climate change are now touching communities across the country more than ever before.

The Climate Crisis Action Plan also comes on the heels of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a 1,656-page report released in late 2018 that concludes the government “must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes…to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.” The report states, “Without significant global greenhouse gas mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause substantial losses to infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.” Mandated by Congress to come out every four years, 300 scientific experts produced this product under the guidance of a 60-member federal advisory committee. It was open to review by the public, 13 federal agencies, and a panel at the National Academy of Sciences. The last report was released in 2014.

ASCE is pleased that so many of our recommendations and priorities were included in the Climate Crisis Action Plan, and we will continue working with Congress to make sure our infrastructure is built for the future, with an eye towards resilience, mitigation, preparedness, and economic opportunities for all.

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