While Congress considers much-needed investments in roads, sewers and other critical infrastructure, it must consider a crucial component: How do we get the most value for our money when a changing climate challenges the resilience of the things we depend on every day?
Right now the U.S. is dealing with climate-driven disasters across the country, including historic wildfires in California, a deepening drought across the Southwest and the devastation from Hurricane Ida that stretches from Louisiana and Mississippi in the South to New York in the Northeast.
The growing frequency and severity of disasters like these disrupt and displace hundreds of thousands of people, cost the U.S. billions of dollars each year and pose a significant threat to our nation’s infrastructure – including transportation systems, water and wastewater systems, government buildings and the power grid.
In Florida, residents are facing risks from intensifying hurricanes, stronger heat waves and rising seas inundating Miami and other communities. In fact, just last year Hurricane Sally inflicted $7.3 billion in economic losses. As weather events grow in cost, frequency and extremity, there has never been a more critical time to ensure our infrastructure will stand up in the face of disaster.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has partnered with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) on bipartisan legislation to address the current crisis. The Built to Last Act, introduced in Congress in April 2021, would help build stronger and more climate-resilient infrastructure that can better survive future storms.
This legislation aims to develop the best available information on weather-related risks, including floods, hurricanes and wildfires and make sure it’s utilized in our building and zoning codes, siting and design standards and other criteria that guide where we build and how we build.
If passed, the Built to Last Act would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to identify and support research that provides long-term forward projections of sea level rise, precipitation trends and other weather and climate information to the public.
The legislation would also require that advice and technical assistance be provided to inform new building standards, codes and voluntary certifications. These changes will help mitigate the challenges posed by the changing climate and empower states, communities and businesses to plan accordingly.
In Florida, one of the state’s pressing challenges is the availability of affordable housing. According to housing advocates, too many residents spend too much of their income to rent substandard housing. The Built to Last Act would lead to resilient and affordable housing that is built to withstand future storms.
Reducing costs to taxpayers as well as residents in affected communities is yet another advantage of the Built to Last Act’s approach. For decades government programs have simply rebuilt communities after disaster strikes, ignoring the vulnerabilities that were just exposed.
Yet research shows that investing in resilience and mitigation measures keeps people safe, saves residents and taxpayers money and makes homes and businesses less prone to damage For every $1 spent on pre-disaster mitigation efforts, we could save $6 in post-disaster cleanup and avoided damages.
Given the reality of the extreme weather that is facing every corner of our nation, all members of Congress should join in supporting this bill.
Pete Sepp is president of the National Taxpayers Union. Rob Moore is the director of the Water & Climate Team at the Natural Resources Defense Council.