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Obama Administration Recognizes the Climate-Resiliency Benefits of Green Infrastructure

Ben Chou

Posted July 16, 2014 in Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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As we‘ve seen play out repeatedly in communities across the U.S., the impacts of climate change are already here. Multiple wildfires are currently burning in Western states, California’s drought is only intensifying, and extreme storms have caused flooding and heavy winds from the East Coast to the Rockies.

To help manage these extremes, federal agencies, states, and local communities are increasingly taking action. For example, California state officials just yesterday took unprecedented action to curtail water waste amid an historic drought. And today, the Obama Administration revealed a range of actions to help state and local communities better prepare for climate change impacts. These actions provide critical resources and further help communities across the country become more resilient to the climate change impacts already being experienced and those expected in the future.

As part of President Obama’s announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a Green Infrastructure Collaborative to further the implementation of green infrastructure practices in communities across the U.S. Working collaboratively, federal agencies will provide funding for green infrastructure projects in at least 25 communities across the country, provide technical assistance to help cities incorporate green infrastructure into planning efforts, and recognize and award innovative green infrastructure projects.   

As I’ve written about previously, green infrastructure techniques (e.g., green roofs, rain gardens, roadside plantings, porous pavement, and rainwater harvesting) are an important component for making communities more resilient to climate risks. These techniques use soils and vegetation in the built environment to absorb runoff close to where it falls, helping to reduce the flooding risks associated with more frequent and intense rainfall events. They also provide numerous other benefits such as greening the urban landscape, enhancing water supplies, cutting heating and cooling energy costs, and enhancing property values.

While we fully support President Obama’s efforts to make communities better prepared for climate change impacts, there are more opportunities for federal agencies to act to promote green infrastructure. First and foremost, EPA should resume its efforts to set national standards to control runoff pollution using green infrastructure. As my colleague Jon Devine explained last year in this post – and as remains true today – EPA passed on a golden opportunity to implement green infrastructure to protect water quality and to reduce urban flood risks. 

States also can provide more opportunities for green infrastructure projects. We recently completed an issue paper discussing how EPA’s Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) can be utilized to make communities more resilient. Specifically, the SRFs can better support green infrastructure projects by scoring projects that integrate green infrastructure higher, requiring projects intended to reduce sewer overflows or improve stormwater management to implement cost-effective green infrastructure measures, and setting aside a certain percentage of funds for green infrastructure projects and programs.

Today’s announcement is certainly a step in the right direction, but we’ll continue to push federal agencies to fully consider climate risks in their planning and operations – and to increase reliance on green infrastructure as a climate resiliency strategy – so that all communities have the necessary tools and resources to be better prepared.    

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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