Tribal Economies

Climate funds in the infrastructure bill to combat drought, forest fires and floods

The recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is not just about roads and bridges, it is also spending billions to tackle forest fires, droughts, floods and other effects of climate change, said on Wednesday. officials from the Ministry of the Interior.

The $ 1.2 trillion measure, which awaits President Joe Biden’s signature after House approval last week, includes salary increases for wildland firefighters, funding for storage and processing facilities for l water and resilience efforts for Native American tribes. The White House said Biden would sign the measure on Monday.

However, advocates say that a separate $ 1.75 trillion spending measure that the White House calls the Build Back Better plan will do more to tackle the root causes of climate change. This plan awaits a vote in the US House and likely major changes in the Senate.

Liz Klein, senior advisor to Home Secretary Deb Haaland, said the department was not looking at the dollar amount of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but its potential to help people facing flooding, drought, storm surges and more resulting from climate change.

“We are really laser-focused right now on what this means for the day-to-day lives of people facing the continued fallout from a worsening climate disaster,” she said on a call Wednesday with journalists.

The bill includes $ 1.5 billion to improve resilience to forest fires, including funds to restore forests after fires.

The measure would also increase the wages of forest firefighters and force the interior to transform at least 1,000 seasonal firefighters into full-time workers. They would focus on reducing dangerous fuels that help forest fires spread faster, Klein said.

“The tools that have been provided to us in this infrastructure agreement recognize that we need to have a year round firefighting workforce,” Klein said.

The bill also includes $ 8.3 billion for water management and more to tackle the drought that is “gripping the West,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of the interior for water and Science.

“This is one of the largest investments in drought resilience in the country’s history,” said Trujillo. “There is an urgent need to minimize the impacts of drought and develop a long-term plan. “

Trujillo cited examples of low water levels in the Colorado River Basin in several western states and in the Klamath Basin in Oregon.

It includes $ 736 million for infrastructure on tribal lands through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an interior agency.

It would provide $ 270 million for the maintenance of BIA roads and $ 250 million for irrigation, dams and water sanitation facilities.

It would also provide $ 215 million to tribes to plan and build climate change resilience and adaptation projects. A press release from the department said these projects would vary by tribe and location.

A deposit

Climate hawks and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have been less impressed with the overall climate impact of the infrastructure bill, as it will also fund more road construction that will result in emissions from transportation.

Progressives are pushing to pass the largest $ 1.75 trillion social spending plan that includes emissions provisions.

Adam Peltz, lead lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded the climate provisions – particularly related to cleaning up oil and gas wells – in the infrastructure bill, but said the larger spending plan would have greater climate impacts.

“There is a lot more to the Build Back Better bill and we see the two as companions,” Peltz said. “We really need both. The climate crisis is so huge that we really have to deal with it aggressively and that requires the combined efforts of these two bills. “

Among the climate provisions of the Infrastructure Bill, $ 11.3 billion is for abandoned mine restoration projects aimed at shutting down mine shafts and restoring water supplies damaged by mining.

Also included is $ 4.7 billion to plug orphaned oil and gas wells that leak methane and pollute groundwater. Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.

Companies that extract oil and gas are supposed to plug wells after they are no longer in use, but there are at least 80,000 documented unclogged wells across the country because the developer has gone out of business or the well ceased production before regulations required it to be plugged. .

“The landmark investments of the bipartite infrastructure agreement will help revitalize these local economies and support salvage jobs, while tackling the environmental impacts of these legacy developments,” said Haaland, a former member of the House of Commons. United States of New Mexico, in a statement.

Funding for the infrastructure bill allows federal and state regulators to plug known orphan wells, but there are likely hundreds of thousands of other unplugged wells that regulators are unaware of, Peltz said.

“It’s definitely a down payment on a bigger problem,” Peltz said.

Federal money to plug the wells could start flowing “within a few months,” he said, with funding continuing until 2030.

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