Last month the House Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing on their ground-breaking legislation—the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act—to address climate threats to coastal communities and ecosystems. The hearing highlighted how the bill will help coastal communities adapt to the impacts of climate change and advance nature-based solutions for reducing threats from rising seas and more intense storms.
So what’s in this 300-page bill, and how will it help our communities and birds that are already facing the impacts of climate change today? In this series, we break down the bill by issue, starting today with natural infrastructure and coastal resilience.
Enhancing community preparedness
2020 has demonstrated, with deadly consequence, the costs of failing to address climate change along our coasts. This year’s record-breaking hurricane season has repeatedly battered Gulf Coast communities, and rising sea levels are causing more routine nuisance flooding in Florida and other coastal states, increasing road closures and affecting property values.
The legislation will protect coastal communities from the impacts of climate change, with a focus on frontline communities of color, who are underserved by disaster and other federal programs and are more likely to live in flood-prone areas with failing infrastructure and near polluting facilities.
The bill expands existing programs like the National Coastal Resilience Fund to increase funding and enable a broader array of projects to address multiple climate threats to communities from changes like ocean acidification and warming. It also creates new programs to support climate resilience initiatives, including a new $3 billion “Shovel-Ready” Restoration Grants program to support efforts to restore and enhance natural protections for coastal communities, a Tribal Resilience program to provide much-needed funding to help Tribal communities adapt to coastal impacts from climate change, and a climate relocation initiative to support voluntary efforts of communities needing to relocate as a consequence of climate impacts.
The bill’s investment in coastal resilience and restoration will not only reduce future losses from climate change, these investments will also help to stimulate the economy and create jobs in tourism-dependent and fishing communities that have been particularly hard hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advancing natural infrastructure
The bill also creates important new incentives for advancing “natural infrastructure” approaches to coastal resilience—like restoring coastal wetlands, installing living shorelines, and rebuilding oyster reefs, and barrier islands—which provide cost-effective solutions for protecting communities from rising flood risk, and restoring healthy habitats for coastal birds and the fish they rely on for food. A new Living Shorelines Grant Program will spur use of nature-based efforts to reduce flood and erosion risks. A new Blue Carbon grant program will help to preserve and restore coastal ecosystems that both capture and store carbon pollution while providing natural flood buffers for communities.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the U.S. has lost more than half of all fresh- and saltwater wetlands, and NOAA estimates that with 1.5 feet of sea-level rise we will lose an additional amount of wetlands equivalent to the size of Pennsylvania. Without action, this could spell tragedy for birds and other wildlife that depend on those wetlands. Audubon’s own Survival by Degrees report shows that if we fail to address climate change we stand to lose two-thirds of North America’s bird species.
Protecting and restoring wetlands is also important for the economy. In 2017 alone, coastal wetlands supported 1.74 million jobs and contributed more than $244 billion in sales from fishing. During Hurricane Sandy, coastal wetlands prevented $625 million in property damages throughout New York and New Jersey.
Modernizing the Coastal Barrier Resources Act
The bill also modernizes and improves the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA), which provides the most effective legal protections for sensitive coastal environments from the threats of development by prohibiting most federal investment in these areas. The bill would allow for the expansion of CBRA protections to the Pacific Coast and to upland undeveloped areas that can serve as migration corridors to help these critically important ecosystems naturally adapt to rising seas. These updates to CBRA help to protect coastal areas that provide natural flood buffers for communities and critical habitats for fisheries, birds and other wildlife. CBRA protections have saved taxpayer dollars by preventing unwise development in vulnerable coastal areas. By adding another 1 million acres to CBRA, Congress can save the federal Treasury more than $70 billion over 24 years.
Our coasts are home to nearly 40% of the U.S. population, contribute 46% to of the U.S. economy, and produce 40% of total jobs in the country. With so much of our country at stake, we urge members of Congress to support the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, and advance common-sense solutions for reducing climate threats to coastal communities, economies, and birds and other wildlife.