Infrastructure Can and Should Be Clean and Sustainable

Natural infrastructure is the cleanest, cheapest way to protect birds and people from some of the harmful effects of the changing climate.

Infrastructure projects are a place where partisan differences can be put aside for the sake of shared national interests. Bridges get drivers safely between states. Highways get commodities to stores and factories. The grid powers communities across the country. Water systems, airports and communication towers all cross local, state and political boundaries and deliver tremendous value.  

With Infrastructure Week upon us, Audubon is reminding Washington that there is more to infrastructure than steel and concrete. We outlined our priorities in a letter this week.

Lawmakers are poised to advance infrastructure investments this year, and Audubon is working with Senators, Congress Members and their staffs on the value and benefits of natural or green infrastructure and energy infrastructure built for a sustainable future.

Natural infrastructure is the strategic use, restoration, or management of natural lands and waters to conserve and restore ecosystem functions and/or reduce flood or storm damages. Think of coastal wetlands that absorb flood waters, forests that prevent erosion and barrier islands that weaken hurricanes and protect inland communities.

In addition to protecting communities and wildlife, natural infrastructure makes economic sense.

  • Coastal wetlands prevented $625 million in direct property damages during Hurricane Sandy.
  • Restoration of Muskegon Lake in Michigan stabilized the shoreline at 10 locations, which is estimated to have a 6-to-1 return on investment.
  • Setback levees that facilitate the natural functioning of the flood plain in Hamilton County, California were estimated to be more cost effective than upgrading existing levees.

Natural infrastructure is the cleanest, cheapest way to protect birds and people from some of the harmful effects of the changing climate. Nowhere is that more true than in coastal areas. It provides habitat for wildlife, safety for people and support for local economies. The federal Coastal Barrier Resources System, for example, discourages development along storm-prone shorelines and saves taxpayers significant money in the process.

Audubon is also advocating that as “Congress considers investments to maintain and improve U.S. infrastructure, it should provide direction, authority, and funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency.” Climate change is the greatest threat facing birds and people, so reducing carbon emissions is urgent. Not surprisingly, clean energy is also economically smart:

  • The renewable energy and energy efficiency industries are driving economic growth and creating jobs. In 2016, the wind and solar industries added 25,000 and 73,000 jobs, respectively, while 133,000 jobs were created in energy efficiency.
  • The solar industry alone is responsible for about one in every 50 jobs created nationwide.

Oil, gas and coal contribute to climate change. Developing these sources ravages landscapes and poisons water. Audubon is calling on Congress to build out a renewable, reliable energy grid that is sited in a manner that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates any impacts to wildlife or their habitat.

Conservation and economic development aren’t an either/or proposition. What’s good for people can also be good for birds and for the places we share.

Read the letter outlining our position here.