Resilience Takes Center Stage in Congress

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Now that Congress has passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, President Joe Biden and lawmakers are laying the groundwork for another top legislative priority — a long-sought after boost to the nation’s roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. With COVID-19 relief done Congress has begun a series of hearings on sustainable and resilient infrastructure, a move in line with the priorities that President Biden outlined in a series of Executive Orders earlier this year, as well as one of the key solutions of the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

Just this week, both the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings to explore policy solutions that will not only combat climate change, but can ensure that as a nation we are truly “building back better.” These hearing represent the beginning of Congress’ development of a major infrastructure bill that is anticipated to focus on both the importance of resilience and the impact of climate change on infrastructure now and in the future.

To start the week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee explored the private sector response to climate change, with a discussion centered on solutions for the surface transportation sector. Industry stakeholders, such as CEO of AECOM, Mr. Troy Rudd, took the opportunity to discuss opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and electrification projects. In his opening statement, Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) noted that “we will need commitment at all levels of government, and from the private sector, to achieve significant reductions in carbon pollution in the transportation sector, to transition to large-scale decarbonization, and to invest in the infrastructure upgrades to make our assets and facilities resilient to extreme weather events.”  ASCE member and WSP’s National Business Line Executive for Climate, Resilience, and Sustainability, Tom Lewis, took the opportunity to discuss the need to build our infrastructure to deliver not just cost benefits, but sustainability benefits, environmental stewardship, and resilience.

The following day, The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management continued to conversation with a hearing focused on Building Smarter: The Benefits of Investing in Resilience and Mitigation. The hearing provided an opportunity for subcommittee members to engage in a dialogue on mitigation and resilience tools, and hear from representatives from the insurance sector, emergency management, and the home builders on risk management and building code adoption.  Among those testifying at the hearing was Ben Harper, A.M.ASCE, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Zurich North America, who highlighted the ASCE Report Card and as to the critical importance of investing in resiliency and mitigation as we transition to a new, low-carbon society and seek to reduce losses from disasters. In a statement to the Subcommittee, ASCE urges Congress to make infrastructure vulnerability a major component of infrastructure initiatives and investments going forward.

Finally, this week the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee listened to key transportation stakeholders on the needs of alternative vehicles and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Lawmakers heard about ways to strengthen research and development in innovative transportation technologies including electrical grid integration to support electric vehicles. In ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card our nation’s energy infrastructure received the grade of a “C-.”  As the nation becomes increasingly reliant on uninterrupted electricity, we urge lawmakers to adopt a federal energy policy that provides clear direction for meeting current and future demands.

 

Therefore, as Congress get to work, ASCE wants to ensure that these conversations result in real policy solutions, such as the recently enacted Resilience Revolving Loan Fund, and are included in a comprehensive infrastructure bill. ASCE believes that the foundational step for any infrastructure bill lies in not just building more sustainably and improving resilience, but to assess the nation’s existing infrastructure needs and conditions. That is why the nation’s engineers are approaching projects and engineering in a new way, focusing efforts on the overall needs and benefits that a project aims to address. We hope that Congress can come together to develop legislation that keeps these principles of sustainability and resilience in mind and addresses the vulnerabilities that our infrastructure faces from natural and man-made disasters.

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