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How Does Building Back Better Apply to Our Ocean?

The American Jobs Plan has the potential to greatly help our ocean and coasts

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© Bob Wick, BLM

In President Biden’s first six months in office, his Build Back Better plan has been at the forefront of his agenda. It consists of three parts: the American Rescue Plan, which provided COVID relief to families and small business; the American Families Plan, intended to bolster the middle class; and the American Jobs Plan, which focuses on revitalizing infrastructure.

With the American Rescue Plan having passed earlier this year, both the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan are currently making their way through Congress. Although both the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan are critical components of building back better, I want to take a deeper look into why the American Jobs Plan is inextricably linked to our ocean and climate—and why accounting for this link is vital to the plan’s success.

First, we need to look at what is actually in the plan Congress is debating. The American Jobs Plan proposes to do a number of things, including revitalizing highways and bridges, delivering broadband internet to all Americans, upgrading schools and veterans’ hospitals and more. Importantly, it also prioritizes efforts that reduce emissions and reduce the effects of climate change—which is crucial for maintaining a healthy and functioning ocean—including:

  • Increasing energy efficiency of buildings across the country.
  • Improving public transportation options, including investing billions into rail systems.
  • Enhancing electric grids, food distribution and hospitals in communities vulnerable to climate-driven disasters.
  • Incentivizing clean energy to transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Restoring and protecting natural lands that mitigate the effects of hurricanes, sea-level rise and wildfires.
  • Establishing a Civilian Climate Corps that will work to advance environmental justice.

These measures are just the tip of the iceberg of the initiatives proposed in this bill, which has several important things to note. First, and perhaps most importantly, is the critical emphasis within it on increasing climate resilience and mitigation of climate change effects. In the last month alone, we’ve seen the Pacific Northwest coast bake under record breaking temperatures; unprecedented manatee deaths, massive red tide events and water quality degradation in Florida; and a Miami condominium building collapse potentially in part due to the coastal effects of climate change. Clearly, it’s impossible to discuss the future of infrastructure in the United States without framing it in terms of climate change.

We are already seeing and feeling the effects of climate change in our ocean, along our coasts and throughout the entire country—to “build back better” means to build to withstand future climate conditions.

Second, within the bill there is a necessary focus on minority and low-income communities that are disproportionately affected by severe weather events and other effects of climate change. The bill proposes that 40% of the benefits of climate-focused investments be used to assist disadvantaged communities and provide tax credits for disaster-resilience projects in low- and middle-income areas.

Third, the plan presents expansive opportunities to invest in our ocean and coasts, which will help mitigate climate change and improve the lives of people throughout the country. By investing in coastal restoration and resilience projects, for example, we can buffer the effects of sea level rise, improve habitat for threatened wildlife and create thousands of jobs. Initially the plan called for $2.5 billion in investment for these projects, but a new report found that half of all coastal U.S. states and territories have identified a need of over $6 billion in these projects. That’s why we’re encouraging Congress to invest at least $10 billion in these initiatives.

Another example is the bill’s Healthy Ports Program, which would help modernize our nation’s ports and improve the shipping sector to help move us into a clean-energy future. We know a zero-emissions shipping industry is possible, and investing in this vision through the infrastructure bill is a critical step in achieving this goal.

I encourage you to review the other ways the American Jobs Plan can advance ocean-based climate solutions and support vulnerable and marginalized coastal communities by reading our recent report. It is powerful to see all the ways this funding could be applied to better the lives of people around this country in the face of climate change and help protect our ocean in the face of increasing threats.

However, outlining a plan is only the first step. A plan means nothing if it is not put into action.

As Congress continues to debate the future of this plan, we must hold our elected officials accountable to ensure the measures aren’t weakened to the point of ineffectiveness in the name of compromise. Money that is channeled into ineffective or incomplete programs is a waste of valuable resources—we need to ensure that the legislation that is passed remains strong on ocean-based climate solutions and environmental justice. Then, the next phase of the work begins. Our leaders at every level of government need to be held accountable to ensure the funds are being used properly to advance the goals outlined in the plan.

I am very encouraged to see this climate-focused infrastructure plan put forward by the Biden administration. It is a strong example of fulfilling the administration’s goal of working towards a greener future that actively tackles the threats of climate change. Although the work is just beginning, it gives me hope that we can make great progress in implementing large scale ocean-based climate solutions.

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