Infrastructure deal will spend billions targeting climate change

A bicycle burns on an unattended property in a wildfire in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego in 2007.
A bicycle burns in a wildfire in the Rancho Santa Fe area of San Diego in 2007. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

With extreme weather disasters making headlines almost daily this summer, Congress appears ready to start spending billions of dollars to fight climate change.

The bipartisan infrastructure deal currently making its way through the U.S. Senate includes notable first steps meant to address the climate crisis, including billions for flood control, fire prevention and sea-level-rise mitigation.

"We are surrounded by evidence of the climate crisis: the fires out West, the heat waves, the floods," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a Washington press conference last week. "Everywhere you look, because of global warming, things are getting worse and worse."

As part of the emerging deal, which is probably heading for a vote by the end of the week, Congress will allocate $11.6 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control projects, while the Forest Service will receive billions to help clear the undergrowth that has built up for decades and has fueled more severe wildfires.

The bill would set aside $21.5 billion to establish the creation of an Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations at the Department of Energy that would research carbon capture technology and hydrogen power alternatives to fossil fuels. Another $16 billion is included for the department to spend on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Thanks to the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures have risen by roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Hundreds of studies have shown that the increase is associated with a marked uptick in extreme weather events, as well as the rapid melting of the world's glaciers and polar ice caps.

The infrastructure package will provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with more than $540 million to map areas prone to coastal flooding, as well as to more accurately model where wildfires present the greatest risk to Americans.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is set to receive $3.5 billion, set aside specifically to help reduce damages caused by flooding.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking to the media, discusses the announcement of a bipartisan deal on infrastructure in June.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking to the media, discusses the announcement of a bipartisan infrastructure deal in June. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

While the funds allocated to help mitigate climate change risks are a notable first step for the U.S. government, many of the priorities proposed by President Biden, such as $174 billion to spur the transition from gasoline-fueled cars to an electric vehicle fleet, were left out of the deal.

While many Republican critics of plans to counter climate change have stated that such measures are far too expensive, the losses currently being attributed to climate change continue to mount.

"In 2021 (as of July 9), there have been 8 weather/climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each to affect the United States," NOAA says on its website. "These events included 1 drought event, 2 flooding events, 4 severe storm events, and 1 winter storm event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 331 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted."

If present warming trends continue, however, annual losses in the U.S. due to climate change are forecast to rise to nearly $1.9 trillion, according to a report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council.


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