Investment in our nation’s infrastructure is long overdue, and we must ensure that investment benefits both people and wildlife. Aging roads, bridges, and railways pose safety risks. Inefficient buildings and industrial processes waste energy, while many rural areas still lack effective internet access, and the U.S. electric grid is largely ill-equipped to handle modern energy needs. These challenges require concerted policy attention.
The transportation sector currently makes up roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, consuming 14 million barrels of oil per day, according to the Energy Information Administration. Supporting smart, forward-looking planning that promotes increased use of mass transit and electrification of cars, buses, and other transport will not only cut emissions and oil dependency, but will allow for more efficient movement of people and commerce. This requires investment in battery charging infrastructure, electric vehicle purchasing, and greater support for states and localities wishing to get people out of cars and into shared transportation. These priorities provide an opportunity for the United States to lead in clean energy technology and job creation.
In crafting surface transportation legislation, Congress should prioritize measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution from ground transportation. These could include state incentives to reduce emissions, alternative and electric vehicle fueling infrastructure, mitigation at ports and in cities, new priorities for freight planning, and incentives and other support for carbon capture, use, and storage. Lawmakers should prioritize climate and other pollution reduction while fostering alternative modes of transportation and community-based solutions.
Congress should also account for climate risk in future transportation planning and funding decisions. Future transportation investments should be informed by the latest projections for future climate risk, and be designed to minimize vulnerability to those risks. This is especially critical as degraded natural resources such as protective wetlands, forests, and coastal dunes are leaving communities and local economies more vulnerable to the costs and damages caused by extreme weather and the effects of climate change.
Now is the time for Congress and the Administration to invest in upgrades to our nation’s energy, transportation, and natural infrastructure systems in order to increase community safety and resilience, protect and recover wildlife, boost local economies and familysustaining jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
By investing in natural infrastructure—such as forests, wetlands, rivers, floodplains, working lands, and other open spaces—Congress can protect and restore communities and increase nature’s capacity to store carbon. Healthy and resilient natural systems help deliver cleaner water, jobs, increased outdoor recreation, and enhanced fish and wildlife habitat. Investing in a combination of natural infrastructure and built infrastructure will maximize job creation across the nation, bolstering local economies, and improving community resilience.
Natural infrastructure measures are cost-effective, and can make a valuable difference in minimizing or avoiding the risk of catastrophic storm and flooding damages in at-risk areas. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, natural infrastructure prevented $625 million in flood damages in 12 coastal states and reduced damages by 20 to 30% in the four states with the greatest wetland coverage. Similarly, natural infrastructure reduced Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge in some areas near New Orleans, and levees protected by wetland buffers had a much greater chance of surviving than levees without natural safeguards. Our natural systems are one of our most effective—and underutilized—tools as we confront and adapt to a changing climate.
As Congress negotiates an infrastructure package, natural infrastructure should be appropriately centered as a common-sense, cost-effective solution that protects federal roadways and built investments while providing myriad conservation benefits. Specifically, the National Wildlife Federation encourages Congress to incorporate a competitive resilience grant program that provides resources for states and communities to improve transportation resilience planning and to complete projects that reduce the vulnerability of critical transportation assets in the face of natural hazards. Any such program should explicitly recognize and encourage the use of natural infrastructure approaches to improve resilience, such as wetland restoration and greenways to absorb floodwaters and buffer impacts of erosion and weather.
Finally, building on the good work of Senate and House transportation committees to address the significant problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions, Congress should commit $500 million to wildlife and fish overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and other tools that reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain wildlife movement. Congress should also carry forward other excellent provisions from last session, including eligibility for wildlife crossings in broader transportation programs, workforce training, and research.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a statute guided by the simple notion that we must look before we leap, is a fundamental environmental statute that requires the review of major federal activities’ impacts on public health, public safety, wildlife, and the environment. NEPA also gives the public the critical opportunity to provide input—and is often the only forum for members of the public, outside experts, states, Tribes, and public interest organizations to have a voice—in federal decision-making that can profoundly impact their lives and livelihoods.
Under the last Administration, the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) rewrote the implementing regulations for NEPA, drastically undermining scientific integrity, public input, and critical protections for people and wildlife. As CEQ works to review that rulemaking and restore the foundational requirements of this critical environmental statute, Congress must also continue to guard against any misguided and misdirected attempts to weaken environmental reviews or silence the public’s voice.
Instead, Congress should focus on supporting better implementation and enforcement of NEPA by increasing funding, training, and other resources for federal agencies’ permitting offices, as well as supporting improved coordination among all federal agencies involved with NEPA processes.
Photo credits: Ivan Radic (EV charging), Jim Maurer (Amtrak), Mark Meyer/U.S. Forest Service (Tongass w/ brown bear sow + cubs, Bruce Hallman/USFWS (bald eagle), Bob Wick/BLM (moose cow)
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.