Congress Wants to Build Resiliency Into its Response to Climate Change

June 14, 2021 by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON — A congressional hearing Friday gave a boost to part of the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan that seeks to resist the devastation of climate change.

Lawmakers said building infrastructure that is resilient to disasters caused by global warming is a better option than rebuilding after the damage.

“We do not have time to waste,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., who chairs the committee. “The time to invest in resilience is now.”

She referred to President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan when she said, “Now it’s time for Congress to enact ambitious, transformational legislation.”

The unresolved question during the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing was whether the lawmakers’ support for hardening U.S. infrastructure can withstand Senate opposition over the costs.

Biden unveiled his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan two months ago as a means of upgrading crumbling infrastructure and expanding affordable housing and child care.

Senate Republicans said the higher taxes it would require would depress economic growth. They countered with a scaled down version that would cost just under $1 trillion.

On Tuesday, Biden rejected the offer, throwing the future of the American Jobs Plan into uncharted territory.

The $1.7 trillion dedicated to infrastructure under Biden’s original plan was the main issue during the House hearing Friday. Much of the money would be spent on solar and wind energy, electric cars and other environmentally-friendly projects.

The projects are intended to avert the kind of climate change disasters that renewed warnings from community officials who testified at the hearing.

Eric Garcetti, mayor of the city of Los Angeles, said he supported environmental parts of the American Jobs Plan as a way to protect public health and the environment but also to help the economy.

“We need to survive and, I would say, also we need to compete,” Garcetti said.

This year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency raised Los Angeles County to its highest level for risks to natural disasters, some of it tied to global warming. The risks include wildfires, drought and extremely hot temperatures — all of which have been getting worse.

“That puts my city on the front lines of this crisis,” Garcetti said.

California has responded with an aggressive effort that last year made it the first state to require that all new houses include rooftop solar panels, unless they win a variance. California also is the nation’s pacesetter for installing electric vehicle recharging stations.

In 2019, Garcetti set a goal of making all wastewater in Los Angeles recycled for beneficial use by 2035. Reusing the wastewater would reduce the need to import water, particularly during droughts.

The Committee on Climate Crisis called on Garcetti in hopes of learning from him and other local officials about strategies that could be used nationwide.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms talked about her city’s plan to obtain 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2035.

The green energy plan approved by the Atlanta City Council in 2019 relies heavily on installing more solar panels on homes, businesses and government buildings. It also creates incentives for efficient insulation, lighting and cooling systems.

Bottoms said that one of the tragedies of climate change was the way it disproportionately hurt low-income persons who can least afford to pay high energy bills or costs to recover from natural disasters, such as flooding.

“We can’t ignore the role that climate justice must play in the future,” Bottoms said. 

Her city’s green energy plan is projected to create 8,000 jobs.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., warned against the consequences of not building resiliency — or the ability to withstand disasters — into the American response to climate change.

“The worst thing in the world we can do is rely upon recovery from disasters,” Graves said.

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