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Connect Infrastructure Planning with Climate Crisis, Analysts Urge U.S. Legislators

Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons

Linking infrastructure policy with the climate crisis, introducing more low-carbon transit, and incorporating more nature in infrastructure design are all key steps in addressing the urban sprawl that is one of the underlying causes of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s the conclusion Grist writer Greta Moran reached after attending a hearing on Capitol Hill, where the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee looked at how the U.S. government can use infrastructure projects to cut emissions and help cities and states adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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The session “didn’t arrive at anything approaching a consensus, even on climate change itself,” she writes. “But the four-hour-plus hearing did bring up some potential avenues to improve our seemingly intractable system of roads, highways, and sprawl.”

The first of Moran’s three takeaways: the U.S. can no longer try to address climate change and infrastructure as separate issues. “Going forward, infrastructure policy should be synonymous with sound climate policy,” said Kevin DeGood, infrastructure policy director at the Center for American Progress. By opting for low-carbon, resilient transportation systems, the country would also be “protecting public health by reducing conventional air pollution [and] providing more mobility options,” added Georgetown Climate Center Executive Director Vicki Arroyo.

Arroyo told the hearing that cities and states are already leading the way in supporting light rail and bus systems that take cars off the road, while designing “complete streets” that are safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. The U.S. government can help them get the job done by changing its matching fund formula for transit: “At the moment, the federal government matches 80% of local money spent on highways, but just 50% for public transit projects,” Moran writes.

The drive to incorporate nature in infrastructure development, meanwhile, reflects growing recognition that sea walls and levees won’t be enough to protect citizens from surging storms and rising seas. Policy specialist Lynn Scarlett from The Nature Conservancy said wetland restoration and other forms of natural infrastructure can help protect communities. “By using nature,” she told legislators, “damages and impacts can be minimized, and communities can recover more quickly” when weather disasters strike.

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