On November 15, 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. The legislation, in addition to addressing other vital priorities, represents one of the most significant—if not the most significant—federal actions to protect U.S. residents from health threats posed by climate change and weather-related emergencies. We increasingly experience longstanding threats that are being turbocharged by a warming planet, including heat waves that are becoming hotter and longer; severe storms that break records year after year; wildfires that outmatch traditional methods of control; pollution and contaminants increasingly endangering the quality of our air and water; pests bringing disease and threatening staple foods; and the trauma of it all on our mental health.
As with all health hazards, these effects are not felt equally, as a mix of environmental, social, and demographic factors influence people’s exposure and vulnerability. Some people are more vulnerable because of age (e.g., children, older adults) or preexisting medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma). People who work outdoors or as first responders may face greater exposure. Large portions of other groups, such as immigrants, people of color, people living in poverty, or people experiencing homelessness may have less access to resources that would allow them to avoid exposures, seek care or treatment, or navigate long-term recovery. In many cases, vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change reflect existing health risk factors and disparities. In the United States, the legacy of colonization, slavery, and ongoing structural and systemic racism contribute to such inequities.
“Climate change and its impacts on health are a reality we must acknowledge and respond to,” said J. Nadine Gracia, President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health. “The new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides critical direction and funding to do so. Also important to protecting the health of all U.S. residents is designing adaptation programs that are rooted in the recognition that some communities are at greater risk and that strive to promote health equity.”
Below is an analysis of the law that highlights key adaptation-related measures. These range from programs to mitigate coastal and inland flooding to preparations for severe drought to proactive wildfire mitigation initiatives to innovative strategies for reducing urban heat islands and more.
For more information on the health impacts of climate change and the extent of states’ preparedness, see “Climate Change & Health: Assessing State Preparedness,” which Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) produced in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And for examinations of concrete steps states and localities are taking to equitably protect their communities, see TFAH’s case studies series.
Coastal Storm and Flood Risk Management
- $17.1 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to remain available until expended, for a range of priorities, including $2.55 billion for coastal storm risk management, hurricane and storm damage reduction projects, and related activities; and $2.5 billion for inland flood risk management projects, with a directive to prioritize projects in communities that are economically disadvantaged, or where the percentage of people that live in poverty or identify as belonging to a minority group is greater than the average such percentage in the United States.
- $3.5 billion ($700 million annually over five years FY 2022-26) for the Flood Mitigation Assistance program, which is administered by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The program provides competitive grants to states, local governments, Tribal governments, and territories to support projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.
- $2.611 billion for operational, research, and facility costs of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including $492 million for the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund, established by NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore, increase, and strengthen coastal ecosystems (e.g., wetlands, dunes, coral reefs) that offer flood protection for coastal communities; $492 million for coastal and inland flood and inundation mapping and forecasting, and for next-generation water modeling activities; and $491 million for, among other purposes, protecting ecological features that help mitigate coastal flooding or coastal storms.
Wildfire Risk Reduction
- $3.37 billion for the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a range of wildfire risk reduction activities, including $600 million for the salaries and expenses of federal wildland firefighters; $500 million for conducting mechanical thinning and timber harvesting; $500 million to award community wildfire defense grants to at-risk communities; and $500 million for planning and conducting prescribed fires and related activities.
- $50 million for NOAA to improve its capabilities related to wildfire prediction, detection, observation, modeling, and forecasting.
- Amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to include wildfire within the hazard mitigation program so that recipients of FEMA grants may engage in such fire-prevention activities as replacing or installing electrical transmission or distribution utility pole structures and installing fire-resistant wires, infrastructure, and underground wires.
- $8.3 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, to fund western water infrastructure projects, including $3.2 billion for projects that rehabilitate or replace aging infrastructure; $1.15 billion for water storage, groundwater storage, and conveyance projects; $1 billion for water recycling and reuse projects, and $250 million for water desalination projects and studies.
- $1.4 billion ($280 million annually over five years: FY 2022-26) to the existing Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants program, which is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Grants may be used to plan, construct, and design certain treatment works; to take measures to better manage, reduce, or recapture stormwater or subsurface drainage; and to implement notification systems to inform the public of overflows that result in sewage being released into rivers and other waters. At least 25 percent of the funds a state receives are to be used in rural and/or financially distressed communities.
- $300 million for implementing the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, a joint effort by the Department of the Interior and seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) to reduce risks from ongoing drought and protect this shared water resource.
- $250 million ($50 million annually over five years: FY 2022-26) to the new Midsize and Large Drinking Water System Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability program, to be administered by the EPA. Grants will be available to public water systems that serve communities with a population of 10,000 or more for the purposes of increasing resilience to natural hazards and extreme weather events, and for reducing cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Funds may be used to conserve water or enhance water-use efficiency, create desalination facilities, relocate or modify existing water systems that are vulnerable to natural hazards or extreme weather events (e.g., risks to drinking water from flooding), enhance water supply, and develop and implement measures to increase resiliency to natural hazards, among other permitted uses.
- $125 million ($25 million annually over five years: FY 2022-26) to the new Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability program, to be administered by the EPA. Grants will be available to municipalities and other owners of publicly owned treatment works to plan, design, or construct projects that increase their resilience to natural hazards (e.g., extreme weather events, sea-level rise, extreme drought conditions) or cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Funds may be used to conserve water; enhance water-use efficiency; improve wastewater and stormwater management; and modify or relocate existing publicly owned treatment works, conveyance, or discharge systems that are vulnerable, among other permitted uses.
- $125 million ($25 million annually over five years: FY 2022-26) to the existing Pilot Program for Alternative Water Source Projects initiative, which is administered by the EPA. The grants may be used to engineer, design, construct, and test alternative water source projects that conserve, manage, reclaim, or reuse water for groundwater recharge and potable reuse.
- $5 billion over five years (FY 2022-26) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to administer grants to states, Tribal governments, electric grid operators, electricity storage operators, and other eligible entities for the purposes of preventing power outages and enhancing the resilience of the electric grid. Recipients may use grants to reduce the risk of power lines causing a wildfire or to reduce the likelihood and consequences of disruptive events—an event in which operations of the electric grid are disrupted, preventively shut off, or cannot operate safely due to extreme weather, wildfire, or a natural disaster.
- $5 billion over five years (FY 2022-26) for the new Program Upgrading Our Electric Grid and Ensuring Reliability and Resiliency initiative, to be administered by the DOE. Grants will be available to states, Tribal governments, local governments, and other eligible entities to coordinate and collaborate with electric sector owners and operators for the purposes of demonstrating innovative approaches to enhancing the resilience of transmission, storage, and distribution infrastructure, and to demonstrate new approaches to enhancing regional grid resilience. In addition, the DOE is directed to assess the resilience, reliability, safety, and security of energy infrastructure in the United States, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.
- $3 billion for FY 2022, to remain available through FY 2026, for the new Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant program, to be administered by the DOE. The program would facilitate the deployment of technologies to enhance electric grid flexibility and mitigate impacts of extreme weather or natural disasters on grid resiliency, among other purposes.
- $8.7 billion over five years (FY 2022-26) to the new Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program, to be administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The law makes $7.3 billion available for formula grants to states and $1.4 billion ($250 million annually from FY 2022-23; $300 million annually from FY 2024-26) available for competitive grants to states, local governments, public authorities, Tribal governments, and other eligible entities for the purposes of making transportation infrastructure assets more resilient against weather events, natural disasters, and changing conditions, including sea level rise.
- $550 million ($55 million annually over 10 years: FY 2022-31) for the DOT to designate 10 regional Centers of Excellence for Resilience and Adaptation and one national Center of Excellence for Resilience and Adaptation to advance research and development that improves the resilience of regions of the United States to natural disasters and extreme weather by promoting the resilience of surface transportation infrastructure and infrastructure dependent on surface transportation.
- $500 million ($100 million annually over five years: FY 2022-26) to the new Healthy Streets program, to be administered by the DOT. Competitive grants will be available to states, local governments, Tribal governments, and other eligible entities to utilize cool pavements and porous pavements, and to expand tree cover, for the purposes of mitigating urban heat islands, improving air quality, and reducing the extent of impervious surfaces, storm water runoff and flood risks, and heat impacts to infrastructure and road users. (For more information on urban heat islands and how some places are working to protect their residents, see TFAH’s case study on Philadelphia’s Beat the Heat program.)
- Directs the DOT to conduct a study on permeable pavements to gather existing information on their effect on flood control in different contexts and to develop models for their performance in flood control and best practices for designing them.
- Directs the DOT and EPA to offer to partner with the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on a study on stormwater management practices to estimate pollutant loads from stormwater runoff from highways and pedestrian facilities, provide recommendations of stormwater management and total maximum daily load compliance strategies within a watershed, and examine the potential for the DOT to assist state departments of transportation in carrying out and communicating stormwater management practices for highways and pedestrian facilities.
- Directs the Federal Highway Administration, a division of the DOT, to update within one year and at least every five years thereafter two previously issued reports on stormwater management practices: ‘‘Determining the State of the Practice in Data Collection and Performance Measurement of Stormwater Best Management Practices” and “‘Stormwater Best Management Practices in an Ultra-Urban Setting: Selection and Monitoring.”
- $1 billion ($200 million annually over five years FY 2022-26) for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, which is administered by FEMA. The program provides competitive grants to states, local governments, Tribal governments, and territories to support pre-disaster hazard mitigation projects.
- $500 million ($100 million annually over five years FY 2022-26) for the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Act (STORM) Act, which authorizes FEMA to enter into agreements with states or Tribal governments to make capitalization grants for the establishment of hazard mitigation revolving loan funds. Such funds are meant to support local government projects to reduce disaster risks for homeowners, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and others.
- $216 million ($43.2 million annually over five years FY 2022-26) for the S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to distribute to tribes and tribal organizations for climate resilience, adaptation, and community relocation planning, design, and implementation of projects which address the varying climate challenges facing tribal communities across the country. Of the total, $130 million is set aside for community relocation and the remaining $86 million is for climate resilience and adaptation projects.