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Infrastructure Bill: $46 Billion Proposed for Resilience Efforts

Published: September 27, 2021

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If signed into law, H.R. 3684 would invest in issues from climate change to extreme weather events to cybersecurity, with a common goal of proactively increasing resilience before disasters occur.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, narrowly passed the Senate in August and is currently under review in the House. A high-level breakdown of the bill’s spending can be found here. Out of the $1.2 trillion, only $566 billion represents new spending. Included in that new spending is $46 billion for infrastructure resilience efforts, including climate change, extreme weather events, and cyber-attacks. For climate issues specifically, flood mitigation, drought, wildfire management, and pre-disaster mitigation all received attention. According to a White House fact sheet on the bill, this legislation would represent the “largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history.”

This article focuses on funding to manage floods, wildfires, and droughts.

Floods

State and city officials are pointing to the damaging effects of Hurricane Ida as a major reason for Congress to pass H.R. 3684. From inundated buildings to washed-out cars to blackouts, the hurricane caused catastrophic damage as it moved from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast. At least 67 people died across eight states, many from flooding that occurred in New York and New Jersey.

To mitigate future disasters like Hurricane Ida, the bill would significantly invest in two key federal programs. First, $3.5 billion would be allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over five years for its Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) program. This would allow the agency to more than triple grant awards it typically makes to help reduce the risk of repetitive flood damage to homes and businesses insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. The legislation would also improve the affordability of FMA grants by lowering the nonfederal amount of matching money required for some socially vulnerable and lower-income communities and individuals. Additionally, $1 billion would be infused into FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which helps communities undertake comprehensive planning and projects to better withstand extreme weather before it strikes.

Other major flood mitigation provisions include:

  • $17B for the Army Corps of Engineers to address backlogs in federal flood control projects
  • $500M to establish a resilience revolving loan fund at FEMA
  • $492M for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to map inland and coastal flooding
  • $492M for improving the resilience of coastal communities to flooding by restoring natural ecosystems

Wildfires

H.R. 3684, as it stands now, includes at least $5.75 billion for restoring, monitoring, and researching forests. Beyond money, the package also includes policies that could make it easier to prepare for wildfires. The fact that this funding made it through the Senate is reflective of forests – and green infrastructure more broadly – being a bipartisan issue. Indeed, resilience money was championed early on by Republicans and several resilience measures were lifted from other bipartisan bills. If the bill passes, the following programs and initiatives would be made possible:

  • $500M over five years for new Community Wildfire Defense Grants
  • $500M over five years for prescribed burns
  • $500M for mechanical tree harvesting and clearing
  • $500M for developing fuel breaks and control locations
  • $300M for the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program
  • $225M for the Forest Service’s burned area rehabilitation program
  • $100M for the Forest Service to build and decommission roadways into forest management projects
  • $80M to NOAA for research supercomputing infrastructure for drought and wildfire forecasting
  • $50M to NOAA for wildfire prediction, modeling, and observation
  • $50M for the Department of the Interior to establish a pilot program that quickly converts fleets of conventional government vehicles into fire engines
  • $20M for the departments of the Interior and Agriculture to establish a program with NOAA that uses geostationary satellites to detect wildfire starts

Along with this money, the bill would amend one of the federal government’s bedrock disaster laws, the Stafford Act, to allow pre-disaster mitigation grants to cover wildfire projects.

Droughts

Included in the sweeping bill is funding for Western water projects that farmers, water providers, and environmentalists say are badly needed across the parched region. A total of $8.3 billion is set aside for water projects that would help bring relief in the coming years. This money would be allocated to the Bureau of Reclamation over a five-year period starting in Fiscal Year 2022. Specific provisions to manage droughts include:

  • $3.2B for aging infrastructure
  • $1.15B for water storage, groundwater storage, and conveyance
  • $1B for projects that recycle wastewater for household and industrial use
  • $1B for water projects in rural areas
  • $800M for fund improvements and repairs at dams
  • $300M for drought measures, such as conservation and storage projects
  • $250M for studies and projects to make seawater and brackish water usable for agricultural, industrial, and municipal use

For more information about the infrastructure bill, check out GovWin’s Administration Transition Resource Center.