WASHINGTON – Federal officials, showing how quickly the Biden administration can reform climate policy after years of denial under former President Donald J Trump, aim to save up to $ 10 billion in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to protect against climate disasters before they strike. .
The agency, best known for responding to hurricanes, floods and wildfires, wants to spend money to prevent damage by building sea walls, raising or relocating flood-prone homes and taking other steps as climate change increases in storms and other natural disasters.
“It will dwarf all previous grant programs of their kind,” said Daniel Kanewski, former deputy director at FEMA and now general manager at Marsh & McLennan Companies, a consulting firm.
The FEMA plan will use a budgeting maneuver to reallocate a portion of the agency’s total disaster spending toward projects designed to protect against damage from climate disasters, according to people familiar with discussions within the agency.
In the past year, FEMA has played a leading role in the fight against Covid-19 – and the agency’s plan is to count Covid spending toward the formula used to redirect the money to climate projects. Doing so would allow the Biden administration to rapidly and dramatically increase climate resilience funding without congressional action, generating windfall gains that could increase funding more than six times.
Michael M. Grimm, Acting Deputy Assistant Director for Disaster Mitigation at FEMA, said the agency’s initial estimates indicate that up to $ 3.7 billion could be saved for the program, called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC. By comparison, this program has so far only had $ 500 million to give.
In a statement, Grimm said more than $ 3.7 billion “could come in the near future.”
But the amount of new funds will likely rise to as much as $ 10 billion, according to some estimates, if the Federal Emergency Management Agency also decides to count Covid dollars in a similar fund, the Risk Mitigation Grant Program, designed to help communities rebuild after a disaster. Mr. Grimm said the decision to provide this funding has not yet been taken.
The proposal won’t necessarily reduce the funds available to deal with Covid, according to people familiar with the plan. Instead, it would give FEMA the ability to withdraw additional flexibility funds from the government’s disaster relief fund, which Congress routinely replenishes once the fund is withdrawn.
The FEMA plan will need to be approved by the White House Budget Office. After Mr. Biden won, members of his transition team said they saw the new funding as a way for the incoming administration to fulfill its promise to tackle climate change.
White House spokesman Vedant Patel did not respond to requests for comment.
The proposal represents an effort by the Biden administration to address what experts call climate adaptation – the field of climate policy differs from reducing greenhouse gas emissions and focuses on better protecting people, homes and communities from the consequences of global warming. These include severe and frequent storms, floods and forest fires, as well as rising sea levels.
The United States has a mixed record on that front.
In many coastal states, home construction is increasing as fast as possible The most flood prone areas, Including places you may soon be underwater. Despite strong public support for stricter building codes in high-risk areas, Only a third Of local jurisdictions have adopted disaster-resistant provisions in their building codes.
In the face of the rapidly escalating costs of disasters, the Trump administration has taken some steps to make societies more resilient to the effects of climate change, even if it does. Refrain from using this term. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies have increased their focus on attracting people to it Stay away from high-risk areasInstead of always paying them to rebuild in place. The agency urged Congress to create a BRIC program to help cities and states increase their preparedness before a disaster strikes, not after.
But federal officials are also handicapped by Mr Trump’s insistence on exaggerating climate change.
In 2018, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released its four-year strategic plan to deal with disasters, the phrase “climate change” was No trace was found. Faced with record California wildfires year after year, Mr Trump said the problem was Lots of papers On the forest floor. Mr. Trump said that rising temperatures were exacerbating the problem, to which he replied: “It will start to get cold. You just watched. “
As a candidate, Mr. Biden promised to focus on climate adaptation. On his first day as president, he signed an order imposing higher building standards on buildings or infrastructure in flood zones that had been built with federal money. It was the order that President Barack Obama first imposed Mr. Trump canceled it.
Mr. Biden’s move won plaudits from the afflicted groups. “This measure restores the forward-looking policy that will help ensure that taxpayer money is not inundated by the oncoming flood,” Forbes Tompkins, who works on federal flood policy with the Pew Charitable Trusts, an advocacy group, said in a statement. .
But sending billions of dollars in new money to FEMA’s disaster programs would go far beyond simply reinstating the Obama era’s adjustment policies. The BRIC program was created in the wake of the brutal disaster season of 2017, when the United States was hit in quick succession by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as the California wildfires that were at the time the worst on record. Federal Disaster Spending I jumped.
A few months later, federal researchers reported that for every dollar the government spent protecting society before the disaster strikes Save $ 6 later. In 2018, Congress created the program to tap these savings by making more money up front. The first scholarships are scheduled to be awarded this year.
If the Biden White House approved the plan, he could find allies in Congress, even among Republicans.
Using Covid money to augment that money has received bipartisan support in Congress in the past. In October, Representative Peter A. DeFazio, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, wrote to the agency urging it to use the Covid money.
The letter was co-signed by Representative Sam Graves, the most senior Republican on the committee. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency was unable to obtain permission from the Trump administration’s Budget Office, according to former officials.
The new money will pose some challenges, according to people familiar with the program. State and local governments must save 25 percent of the cost of any project, which is an especially significant hurdle as the economic downturn has resulted from Covid. Destroyed government budgets. These officials will need to innovate projects on a large enough scale to take advantage of the new money.
However, former FEMA official Mr Kaniewski said the additional funding was worth pursuing. “The more the mitigation dollars, the better,” he said. “This is about taxpayer investment as much as you can find.”