Investments in infrastructure support communities and nature
by Nancy Clair Laird McInaney, Board Chair, The Nature Conservancy – Georgia
The bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted by the president last week offers an extraordinary opportunity to meet the critical needs of communities across Georgia and the country. Its investments in energy, transport and natural infrastructure will support valuable jobs and economic development.
The Bill – officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – was a true bipartisan achievement, supported by members of Congress from all political backgrounds. I am grateful to those in the Georgian congressional delegation who helped secure his passage.
Much of the praise for the bill has naturally focused on how this funding will improve roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. I would like to highlight some of the ways this will also help advance conservation.
Natural infrastructure: The infrastructure bill highlights the vital role nature plays in making our communities stronger and safer. It establishes a clear definition of “natural infrastructure” which recognizes how natural ecosystems help communities manage floods and other hazards. (A 2017 study by The Nature Conservancy and partners documented the role coastal wetlands played in preventing more than $ 625 million in property damage from Hurricane Sandy.) With the enactment of the draft Infrastructure Law, natural infrastructure solutions are now more widely eligible for funding.
Fish and fauna: The package provides funding to support the restoration of aquatic, forest and other vital ecosystems, benefiting both nature and communities whose jobs and economies are linked to maintaining healthy forests and wildlife habitats. This could include, for example, improving aging culverts to improve road safety, improve water quality, and provide fish and aquatic life with better mobility and habitat. The intersection of transportation and nature gets another boost in the package by providing funds for the construction of wildlife crossings at strategic locations to reduce the incidence of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
Community resilience: Coastal communities in Georgia will have access to increased funding to improve their resilience to storms and rising sea levels, including resources to support flood protection, pre-disaster risk reduction and improved resilience . Funding to mitigate the danger of wildfires could further improve the state’s use of prescribed burning to maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfires.
Clean energy: All efforts to protect our communities and lands for future generations must be complemented by a successful campaign to reduce our state’s carbon emissions. The provisions of the Clean Energy Infrastructure Bill move us on this path, funding a series of measures that will have a significant impact on reducing emissions and improving the quality of our lives. From supporting the development of clean energy and improving energy efficiency to improvements making our transport options cleaner and our electricity grid more resilient, the infrastructure package is catalyzing the kind of progress we need to make to tackle the problem. challenge that awaits us. The additional clean energy provisions in the legislation planned for Build Back Better will further accelerate this progress.
Broadband: Think broadband expansion isn’t a conservation issue? Guess again. The pandemic has exposed the gaps our communities face when it comes to internet access, especially in rural areas. The internet is the key to how we get to know our world now. This can spark and maintain a student’s interest in nature. It can connect aspiring naturalists with educational opportunities and jobs. Funding for infrastructure will help us close the gaps to ensure more equitable access for all.
The bipartite law on investment in infrastructure and jobs offers us an unprecedented opportunity. The investments we make now at the federal, state and local levels will result in tangible improvements in our communities and our natural lands. Implementing these improvements will provide many well-paying jobs that will benefit families in our state and our country. As we mobilize to harness these funds, let us use the power of public-private partnerships to work together to seize this opportunity for Georgia.