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With West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin blocking the Build Back Better legislation–which would have directed around $555 billion toward climate action–there’s been discussion of breaking up some of that bill’s provisions into smaller pieces that could pass the Senate. One measure that has gained bipartisan support and might address some of the goals of BBB is the National Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy Act (NCARS).
This bill would require the federal government to create a national adaptation strategy for climate response and an implementation plan. It would also create a “Chief Resilience Officer” position in the White House to lead the strategy’s development and head a group of representatives working on the issue from different government agencies and impacted communities.
Rachel Jacobson, deputy director at the American Association of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP), said NCARS is different from BBB, both in terms of how it was developed and what it does. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sponsored the legislation and had early support from Republicans. It’s not primarily a spending bill, but rather a means to develop and coordinate a response to climate vulnerabilities in communities. Jacobson says this is the first bill to address climate adaptation and the first piece of legislation ASAP has endorsed.
Among the issues that NCARS could address is the reliance on executive orders to manage climate action, which has seen policies shift from one presidential administration to the next. Jacobson says that by coordinating efforts between agencies, the legislation would ensure that essential actions aren’t missed and that investments from the federal infrastructure bill go where they’re most needed for climate adaptation.
“There's going to be a lot more money available for things like infrastructure upgrades in our region. But then the question becomes, how does that money get spent?” she said.
In Detroit, this could mean more federal oversight and coordination between agencies for projects that address flooding, sewer upgrades, and managing water on area expressways. Jacobson emphasized that it would also involve significant input from the “lived experience” of residents and adaptation professionals working in communities.
“We can't have a top-down national climate adaptation resilience strategy,” she said. “It absolutely has to come from the bottom up, and NCARS does create the structure for that because there's an advisory group that informs the strategy.”
Jacobson stressed that the bill was developed with bipartisan input and is not controversial in the same way that Build Back Better was. Still, it’s unclear if the legislation could find sufficient backing from Republicans to clear the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. Currently, it has the support of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). Cassidy is one of several Republican lawmakers who seem to be trying to find a middle ground on managing climate disasters, supporting protections for coastal areas that are being battered by storms and rising seas while resisting efforts to do anything about the fossil fuel emissions that are the primary driver of the climate crisis.
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