Obama: Climate Change Is a Threat to U.S. Infrastructure

President Barack Obama met with the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last week.
President Barack Obama met with the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience last week.

More extreme droughts, floods and wildfires – these are just some of the impacts of climate change that won’t just occur in the distant future to our great-great grandchildren, but are happening now. To address the changing climate’s current effects on communities in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a plan to strengthen national infrastructure and help cities, states and tribal communities better prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

“Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st-century economy,” Obama said last week at a meeting of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “That means that we should see this as an opportunity to do what we should be doing anyway, and that’s modernizing our infrastructure, modernizing our roads, modernizing our bridges, power grids, our transit systems, and making sure that they’re more resilient. That’s going to be good for commerce, and it’s obviously going to be good for communities.”

Obama unveiled over $260 million in federal funds to help communities build their climate adaptation and resilience. The U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies are dedicating $13 million to develop an advanced 3-D mapping tool of the country that communities can use to identify which areas and infrastructure are at risk from changing climatic conditions, the White House said in a statement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also be spending $236 million to improve rural electric infrastructure in eight states – an investment that will not only allow the deployment of smart grid technologies, but can also attract businesses and residents to these communities, according to the White House.

The USDA is also setting aside additional funding to safeguard drinking water in rural communities during droughts, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will dedicate $10 million to provide climate adaptation trainings to tribes.

The White House also gave more details about the $1 million National Disaster Resilience Competition Obama announced last month. Based on the success of the Rebuild by Design competition after Hurricane Sandy, this initiative will encourage communities to come up with innovative programs to recover from extreme weather events and prepare for future disasters; the best programs will serve as models of modern disaster recovery for other communities to adopt themselves.

To help communities bolster coastal infrastructure like seawalls and natural barriers in advance of natural disasters, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will make $1.5 million of competitive funding available for states and tribes, the White House said. And the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investing in green storm water infrastructure, like urban forests and rooftop gardens, which can help mitigate the increased rain and heat island effects exacerbated by climate change. The EPA will be launching its new Green Infrastructure Collaborative to fund green storm water infrastructure projects in 25 communities across the U.S.

The White House also announced a series of pilot projects to address climate resilience and disaster recovery: The Federal Emergency Management Agency will work with communities struck by natural disaster to recover from the events and better prepare for future ones, and the city of Houston and state of Colorado will partner with NASA and the Energy Department to identify their local climate-related vulnerabilities to better inform their disaster preparedness planning.

Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a new guide, “Assessing Health Vulnerability to Climate Change,” to help public health officials assess local climate-related health risks and take steps to reduce the health-related impacts of climate change.

The President said the climate adaptation actions he announced were part of his climate action plan and come two months after the administration released its National Climate Assessment report, which highlights that the country is experiencing climate change’s effects now. Despite a continued debate over the science of climate change and the severity of its impacts, the Obama administration has taken steps – although, many environmental advocates would argue, not nearly enough – to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and build resilience to the changing climate.

“The bottom line is investing in our infrastructure, protecting our communities, ensuring the health and safety of our citizens — none of this should be a partisan issue,” Obama said to the task force, a group of 26 governors, mayors and county and tribal leaders the President convened in November. “This is something that Democrats, Republicans, independents all care about and the leaders who are sitting around this table prove that today and prove it every day.”

Image credit: Official White House photo by Amanda Lucidon

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Alexis Petru

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.