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Critics say infrastructure bill doesn't have enough funds to address climate change

NOEL KING, HOST:

Almost $50 billion from the infrastructure bill that President Biden will sign into law today is to strengthen communities against the effects of climate change. Here's NPR's Nathan Rott.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: The technical term is climate resilience - think moving homes out of flood zones, strengthening levees, reducing vegetation in fire-prone forests.

LAURA BRUSH: Yeah, it can be everything from hardening power infrastructure to preserving or restoring wetlands and replacing concrete with green spaces.

ROTT: Laura Brush is the resilience fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

BRUSH: And then, of course, you know, we think of not only the direct physical impacts of climate change but also - how do we prepare for the economic impacts, the longer-term impacts on public health?

ROTT: So yeah. Resilience - it can mean a lot of things. Roughly $47 billion in the infrastructure bill is tagged for climate resilience, which makes it the largest such federal investment ever. Alex Hall focuses on climate change at the University of California, Los Angeles.

ALEX HALL: I think it's very positive that we are finally confronting these issues. Do I think it's enough? Of course not.

ROTT: The most recent National Climate Assessment estimates that adapting to worsening climate change could cost tens to hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Take California, Hall's home state...

(SOUNDBITE OF OCEAN AMBIANCE)

ROTT: ...Where sea levels are already rising. The state's Department of Transportation says that by the end of the decade, it will need $11 billion to adapt to rising seas alone. That's just for roadways. It doesn't include the tens of billions of dollars it would cost to fortify transportation hubs, airports, dry docks, rail systems, or the tens of billions of dollars' worth of coastal real estate increasingly at risk. And none of that is to mention wildfires or the ongoing Western megadrought.

HALL: So I think of it as a down payment on the money and the thought that's needed for a longer-term strategy around climate resilience.

ROTT: The Biden administration is taking steps to limit global warming. At the just-ended climate conference in Glasgow, the U.S. and some other nations did pledge to do more to cut climate-warming emissions. Regardless of what might happen, though, there is a hard reality - human activities and the gases we've released into the atmosphere have already altered the planet, and more warming is unavoidable. Few people know that as well as Errick Simmons, the mayor of Greenville, Miss.

ERRICK SIMMONS: You know, my folks here in the city of Greenville are not using the word climate change, but what they do recognize is the climate impacts and changes that they're experiencing that affect their lives.

ROTT: Sweltering heat. Flooding along the Mississippi River corridor. In 2019, Greenville, like scores of other towns in the Midwest and South, was inundated after months and months of climate-fueled rains.

SIMMONS: We had 37 sewer failures because of the flood and over 30 streets that failed in the city of Greenville because of the flood of 2019.

ROTT: Simmons represented his still-recovering town and others at the climate conference in Glasgow. And he says coming home to the president signing the infrastructure bill is a win.

SIMMONS: It is a great start.

ROTT: But truly bracing for climate change, particularly in historically disadvantaged Black and brown communities like his, is going to take many more investments in the years to come.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOLOR FLEX'S "DAY'S END") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.