3 actions Congress can take now to build more resilient coasts

Earlier this year, NOAA released findings indicating that the rate of sea level rise has doubled over the last century and, even if global emissions reduction targets are met, sea level could increase 12 inches by 2100.

Coastal states are already feeling the effects of sea level rise with high-tide flooding increasing from 300% to 900% in some places compared to 50 years ago. Hurricanes are also getting stronger and dumping more rain, and last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the most active ever.

By proactively investing in natural infrastructure and conservation priorities, Congress can begin to build protections for the coastal ecosystems that help protect communities, while creating jobs and reducing the costs of future disasters.

Here are three ways Congress can increase resilience of our nation’s coastal communities and infrastructure:

1. Restore and protect natural coastal buffers.

As seas rise and hurricanes increase in intensity, the buffers between the sea and our coastal communities provide vital protection from flooding. Congress can direct funding to programs aimed at restoring critical coastal ecosystems, such as the Mississippi River Delta, where land loss threatens the safety and stability of the region.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation administers a National Costal Resilience Fund that has invested in projects that created, restored or enhanced 17,800 acres of coastal habitat since 2018, protecting more than 100,000 properties and 2,500 facilities. Congress can fund this or other existing, publicly vetted coastal or watershed restoration plans to get similar projects off the ground.

Another way is to fund the North American Wetlands Conservation Program (NAWCA) at its authorized amount through 2024. NAWCA is one of our nation’s most effective locally driven habitat conservation programs. It has conserved 30 million acres of wetlands in the last three decades, while also generating roughly 7,500 jobs and supporting over $200 million in salaries annually. Here are three ways Congress can increase resilience of our nation’s coastal communities and infrastructure. Share on X

2. Invest in resilience before disaster strikes.

States and localities are struggling to recover from the pandemic and economic downturn and many coastal communities are also recovering from back-to-back disasters like hurricanes. As extreme weather increases, Congress can invest today to reduce the cost of future disasters.

Every $1 invested in pre-disaster mitigation saves $6 in future disaster recovery.

FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities program will provide communities that have experienced major disasters with matching funds for innovative, nature-based projects that build resilience to future disasters. Congress should fund this program and set aside up to 15% of funds to natural or nature-based projects to reduce damages from future disasters.

Congress can further support these communities in their recovery and help them be better prepared before the next disaster by permanently authorizing and providing funding for the HUD-administered Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.

This program, a principle delivery mechanism for disaster related funding, is especially important to support low-income communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and who too often bear the brunt of climate change.

3. Improve resilience of critical infrastructure and transportation systems.

Our nation’s roadways, waterways, power grid and other vital infrastructure are at risk from extreme weather and sea level rise, threatening everything from evacuation routes to modes of commerce.

During the 116th Congress, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee addressed climate risk to our nation’s transportation system by unanimously passing the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019. Congress can build on this progress by passing a surface transportation reauthorization bill that would include a competitive grant program to build the resilience of critical transportation systems. Grants could fund natural infrastructure solutions or even support relocating critical assets out of high-risk areas.

Last year’s reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act included investments in natural infrastructure and resilience as part of the overall package. Going forward, Congress can build on this legislation to help protect people and strengthen the economy through similar legislation.

Notably, the Army Corps has tens of billions of dollars of authorized ecosystem restoration projects that Congress could fund to quickly put people to work and restore iconic watershed around the nation.

As Congress works to help our nation recover from the global pandemic and economic downturn, leaders have an opportunity to invest in priorities that aid in this recovery while also better protecting people from future disasters.

EDF is part of a coalition of organizations calling on Congress to make significant investments in coastal resilience while also creating jobs. We look forward to working with leaders from both parties to move these priorities forward in the months ahead.

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