By Joyce Coffee, President, Climate Resilience Consulting


This month’s National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) Conference offers the ideal convening for us to discuss solutions to the business of resilient infrastructure, raising infrastructure and community value, reducing vulnerability in the face of natural disasters and building our future for better lives and livelihoods for all.

We know the majority of infrastructure systems in the US are both maxing out to meet changing demands and aging. Changing weather patterns further complicate these challenges with flooding, extreme heat, freeze-thaw pattern changes, and fires -married with more built form development – placing infrastructure under increased pressure and making it susceptible to catastrophic failures.  To further strength, safety, security and thriving for our communities, America’s future requires infrastructure that is resilient to these changes.

When we say resilient Infrastructure, what do we mean?

Resilient infrastructure:

  • Withstands and responds to natural and manmade shocks and stresses.
  • Uses redundant and predictive design to plan for possible failures.
  • Produces multiple benefits to maximize value for citizens and natural and human communities.

 

We know that past and current inadequate investments in infrastructure systems put U.S. communities at risk. Based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement, The American Society of Civil Engineers grades existing US infrastructure a D+.[i]

At the same time, ASCE estimate that 54 percent of America’s infrastructure needs for the next decade are unfunded, a $1.1 trillion shortfall.[ii]  Where will we find the funds to fill the gap?

The Federal Government is a major funding source for infrastructure investments – a quarter of 2014’s $416 billion investments, for example.[iii] Currently, there is political interest in investing in infrastructure. President Trump has called for an infrastructure package of up to $1 trillion[iv] including assets from a National Infrastructure Bank.

To meet our generation’s challenges, such a bank will need to spur infrastructure rehabilitation, creating resilient infrastructure to modernize our strained systems.

How do infrastructure banks leverage private and public dollars?

Federal funds can capitalize an infrastructure bank, that then lends to state and local governments at below market rates. These loan funds can be used to attract private capital or to provide loan guarantees or credit enhancements. Infrastructure service revenues repay the loans, recapitalizing the bank to fund other projects.

 

Here are 10 tips to ensure that a National Infrastructure Bank finances resilient infrastructure:

  1. Invite advice from financial services experts, including institutional investors, insurance and credit rating agencies, to maximize market stabilization and growth.
  2. Privilege the redevelopment of existing infrastructure before financing new infrastructure in undeveloped areas.
  3. Require designs to account for changed future conditions, including climate change projections.
  4. Stipulate that projects must reduce federal financial exposure for flood insurance claims under the National Flood Insurance Program[v] and disaster recovery under the Stafford Act.
  5. Include criteria related to positive impacts on economic, environmental and social benefits.
  6. Prioritize projects that deliver multiple benefits.
  7. Leverage successful federal funding programs, allowing NIB financing to combine with funds from State Revolving, Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funds.
  8. Include financial products that encourage private investment at various project stages.
  9. Allow special agencies and authorities to borrow to reduce existing government credit rating risk.
  10. Act now! The challenges before us are growing more urgent[vi] and now is the time to protect this and future generations of Americans.

Joyce Coffee is the president of Climate Resilience Consulting working with leaders to create strategies that protect and enhance markets and livelihoods through resilience to climate change.


[i] 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, American Society of Civil Engineers, March 2017, http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

[ii] Failure to Act, Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future May 2016 https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-FTA-Report-Close-the-Gap.pdf

[iii] Congressional Budget Office Spending on Infrastructure and Investment, March 2017 https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52463

[iv] The Trump administration announced a priority of reinvesting in American infrastructure and it is anticipated the legislation will be offered in 2017. Senator Schumer and other Democrats have also proposed an infrastructure investment plan and banking structure –

https://www.dpcc.senate.gov/files/documents/ABlueprinttoRebuildAmericasInfrastructure1.24.17.pdf

[v] 100 Resilient Cities, Strengthening the National Flood Insurance Program

http://www.100resilientcities.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Resilient-Cities-stand-alone-ch3_revised_11.7.17.pdf

[vi] U.S. Global Change Research Program November 2017 Executive Summary: Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume I

https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/CSSR_Executive_Summary.pdf