Audubon Analysis: The Moving Forward Act is Good for Birds, People, and Nature

The new infrastructure package would provide critical resources for the nation’s man-made and natural infrastructure.

(Update: The House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act (233-188) on July 1, 2020)

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the Moving Forward Act, which includes more than $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments. The bill is a step toward building a better America with a more resilient economy, with more jobs, cleaner air and stronger communities that protect birds, conserve water, restore wetlands, reduce emissions, and build a safer and brighter future for humans and birds alike.

As the House debates the many amendments offered to this historic legislation, Audubon also urges Representatives to support the addition of the Bird-Safe Buildings Act and the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. These bills are among the best examples of bipartisan conservation leadership, are in line with the goals of the legislation and should be included. As we invest in building infrastructure, these bills will help protect vulnerable wildlife, including bird species like the Golden-Winged Warbler and Black Tern.

Too often our most vulnerable communities suffer the most from the effects of climate change and pollution, and can even be negatively impacted by seemingly beneficial infrastructure projects. That’s why we’re urging the House to adopt Rep. Tlaib’s amendment requiring the federal government to analyze how infrastructure planning, design, and engineering affect communities that are already disproportionately affected by climate change, including communities of color.

Audubon sent a full list of proposed amendments we support to Members of Congress ahead of votes over the next two days.  We also sent a letter last week to House leaders advocating for all of our priorities in the Moving Forward Act. In addition to the amendments mentioned above I wanted to call some of those priorities and why we are excited about this bill.

Man-made infrastructure like highways and power lines are both significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions and also face threats from climate impacts. Together, transportation and electricity systems contribute more than half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and large-scale investments are needed to rapidly decarbonize both sectors to avoid catastrophic impacts to communities, ecosystems, and wildlife.

The Moving Forward Act directs investments to programs that encourage and fund green- and nature-based solutions for reducing stormwater pollution and protecting vulnerable infrastructure systems, and investments to expand clean energy to reduce carbon pollution from critical sectors like transportation, buildings, and electricity. These programs will not only help create jobs for the millions of people that have been affected by the economic crisis created by COVID-19, but will also provide much-needed funding to support “climate smart” and equitable investments in critical infrastructure.

Climate change is putting two-thirds of America’s bird species at-risk for extinction over the coming decades and it’s putting our communities at-risk as well. According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, estimated damages to roads alone could reach $20 billion per year by 2090 under a high emissions scenario and an estimated $655 million per year is needed to simply upgrade water systems to address water quality over the next two decades.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that natural infrastructure solutions provide more than $23 billion in storm protection services every year, while also delivering other environmental benefits, such as improved air and water quality, and habitats for birds and other wildlife. Additionally, investments in natural infrastructure will contribute to the growing restoration economy and create jobs that cannot be outsourced. Economists estimate that the U.S. restoration economy generated almost $25 billion in economic output and supported more than 221,000 jobs in 2014 alone; these restoration jobs also generated labor income of over $75,000 on average per job and primarily benefitted low-income and rural communities that have been hard hit by the current COVID-19 crisis.

Specifically, Audubon supports the following provisions in the Moving Forward Act that will support efforts to enhance the resilience and sustainability of critical infrastructure systems and protect and restore important ecosystems:

Transportation – The bill includes the INVEST Act, which would increase funding for surface transportation and direct much-needed investments to enhance the resilience and sustainability of transportation systems, deploy natural infrastructure solutions, and increase funding for cleaner alternative modes of transportation, like transit, bicycling, and walking.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Projects – Audubon supports the bill’s investments in previously authorized U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that can be constructed with a new influx of funding; specifically, Audubon supports the environmental infrastructure and ecosystem restoration projects that make up a key part of the Army Corps’ mission and will provide ecological benefits and help support local economies.

Water Quality and Water Supply – The bill includes funding for natural and nature-based solutions for improving water quality and addressing drought as well as for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to support investments to improve water quality and drinking water infrastructure. Last week, we joined with other conservation organizations to applaud the inclusion of the FUTURE Western Water and Drought Resiliency Subtitle and the Western Water Security Act which address the need for a balanced approach to western water infrastructure and the region’s ongoing drought.

Ecosystem Restoration and Recreational Access – Provisions in the bill would support environmentally beneficial restoration and recreational access projects, including projects in the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Great Lakes, Long Island Sound, and a number of other watersheds that provide important ecosystem services, create habitats for birds and other wildlife, support economically important fisheries, and generate billions of dollars in tourism revenues for their local and regional economies. The bill would also provide NOAA with funding for shovel-ready coastal resiliency projects to restore habitat for fish and wildlife, help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, and address the economic impacts from COVID-19 on fisheries with funding to implement living shoreline projects, with priority for under-resourced communities.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency –  Audubon also supports provisions in the bill to build out renewable and clean energy sources including on public lands, through inclusion of the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act, modernize electric grid infrastructure, and increase the energy efficiency of buildings. All of these investments will be critical to meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals. Renewable energy should be sited to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to birds and the places they need. Supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency is also important for driving economic growth and creating local jobs. Over the last decade, the clean energy industry has driven significant job growth in all 50 states. Many of these jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 crisis, but investment in this industry could bring jobs back and create new employment opportunities that strengthen the economy going forward.

Hazard Mitigation – Included in the bill are grants to capitalize hazard mitigation revolving loan funds for projects that reduce climate-related risks in communities. The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that every dollar spent on hazard mitigation saves six dollars in disaster recovery. This program will provide much needed financing to help communities reduce risks before disasters strike and to pursue regional approaches for enhancing resilience, including by updating land-use codes that preserve natural floodplains, establishing wildfire buffers between forests and development, and deploying natural- and green- infrastructure approaches. 

Carbon Capture and Sequestration – If passed, the bill would help ongoing research, development, and deployment of carbon removal and utilization technology that may be critical for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, and the extension of tax credits to incentivize that work. 

Public Lands – The bill would also benefit our public lands. It would establish an Orphan Well Remediation Program to provide funding to properly close and remediate orphaned oil and gas wells that threaten native species habitat, while increasing the amount of financial assurances required of companies drilling on Federal land to ensure taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill in the future. It would also fund the clean-up of abandoned coal mines, improved roads and trails through Forest Service lands, and the creation of a National Wildlife Corridors System to provide for the protection and restoration of certain native fish, wildlife, and plant species on Federal lands and waters and also within a Tribal Wildlife Corridors System.

With passage of the Moving Forward Act, we hope the U.S. Senate and the Trump Administration consider how they can seize this historic opportunity. By supporting investments to enhance the resilience and sustainability of both infrastructure systems and important natural landscapes, we can help states and communities reduce their vulnerability to costly and destructive acts of nature while preserving and protecting ecosystems that are important to birds and other species – including us.