Trump's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan ignores one key thing that could prevent billions in annual damages

  • On Monday, the Trump administration unveiled its infrastructure plan, which would budget $US1.5 trillion toward fixing and rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems, airports, and more.
  • However, the plan does not mention resilience in the face of climate change.
  • Severe weather, exacerbated by rising temperatures and greenhouse-gas emissions, costs the US billions in infrastructure repairs every year.

On Monday morning, the Trump administration revealed its long-awaited infrastructure plan, which aims to funnel $US1.5 trillion toward fixing the nation’s roads, bridges, airports, and more over the next decade.

However, the 55-page plan ignores the key thing that would save the US billions in infrastructure every year: resilience in the face of climate change.

Stephanie Gidigbi, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, called the plan “misguided.”

“The Trump administration’s misguided infrastructure plan ignores the threats facing our country from stronger storms, higher temperatures, and bigger floods,” she told Business Insider. “Smart investments in our future would help make our communities more resilient to withstand the effects of climate change, and would recognise the opportunities in cleaner energy.”

Though it’s hard to say exactly how much climate change-linked infrastructure damages costs the US, a 2017 study estimates that rising temperatures are increasing maintenance and construction costs for roads by billions of dollars every year.

That’s because asphalt is sensitive to temperature. If it gets too cold, it can crack; and if it gets too hot, it can partially melt. Temperature can determine the construction method, too. Asphalt blends that are more resilient to hot summers often cost more, but they are also less prone to damages.

In 2010, temperature changes added anywhere from $US13.6 billion to $US14.5 billion in annual pavement costs, according to the study. That figure could increase to $US19 billion in 2040 and $US21.8 billion in 2070. Under a more extreme prediction, warmer temperatures could contribute $US26.3 billion and $US35.8 billion in annual costs by 2040 and 2070 respectively.

These forecasts do not account for road impacts from flooding and storm surges, which would make cost figures even higher.

“Because these transportation systems constitute large civil investments ($US7.7 trillion in assets and $US45 billion annual expenditures) and underpin an economic vibrancy [3.1 trillion miles] of public travel per year and private citizen expenditures equal to 8.9% of GDP), the impacts [of climate change] may be substantial,” the researchers wrote.

Trump’s plan is a departure from how infrastructure is usually funded. As BI’s Bob Bryan notes, the federal government typically covers the majority of the cost, but under Trump’s plan, local governments would take on 80% or more of the financial burden. Local governments are already largely responsible for repairs after major storms and other weather events. The City of New York, for example, plans to spend $US20 billion on damages from Hurricane Sandy.

“This proposal doesn’t begin to respond to the scale of assistance local communities need to cope with these mounting impacts – it merely shifts the burden of rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure onto state and local budgets which are already strapped,” Ken Kimmell, president of the science advocacy nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

One section of the plan says the White House hopes to expedite the environmental review process for new infrastructure projects by requiring a firm deadline of 21 months. Under current law, projects require analyses that anticipate environmental impacts, some of which take years. Democrats have expressed uncertainty link? about cutting down this regulatory red tape. They say that shrinking the approval time for reviews could make it easier for project sponsors to dodge environmental regulations.

The plan builds on the Trump administration’s promise to roll back legislation that addresses climate change, including the Clean Power Plan, Paris Agreement, and Clean Water Act. In 2017, the US government revoked a plan to require higher flood standards for highways and bridges as well.

Kimmel notes the infrastructure plan also doesn’t mention renewable energy, the modern electric grid, resilience, or adaptation.

“This is a plan to shore up the infrastructure of the past, rather than invest in what we need for the future,” he said.

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