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NRDC offers the below recommended changes to the proposed BRIC policy guidance to ensure that the nation's communities, and the infrastructure on which they rely, are prepared for and protected from a future of more extremes.
I. Capability- and Capacity-Building
a. Equity Considerations
Extreme weather disasters are on the rise due to climate change. When those events interact with existing social inequities, the resulting impacts from those events are compounded./2
"Communities of color and other frontline communities are more likely to live in hazard-exposed areas and have fewer resources to invest in risk-reducing measures."/3
Absent consideration of these social inequities, which often cause frontline communities to experience an unequal ability to prepare for and to protect against disasters, the ability to build resilient communities will be greatly hindered./4
"Support[ing] state and local governments, tribes, and territories through capability- and capacity building to enable them to identify mitigation actions and implement projects that reduce risks posed by natural hazards" is a guiding principle of the proposed BRIC policy guidance./5
Prioritizing capability and capacity building in these communities would also help ensure that they could compete fairly with wealthier communities during the
Prioritize low- to moderate-income communities for capability- and capacity-building.
b. Building Code Adoption and Enforcement
For the last 30 years of code development, every stakeholder - from developers to homeowners to renters - has benefited overall from improvement in code requirements for natural hazards./7
However, code adoption is not uniform across the country./8
While some communities adopt new code editions on a regular cycle, others remain on older, outdated editions. Communities that do not update their codes are continuing to allow construction that does not meet standards proven to make homes more resilient and better able to withstand extreme events.
For example, adopting the 2018 I-Code for hurricane winds in the 185 counties that comprise the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts could avoid an estimated
The proposed BRIC policy guidance states
In the eligibility criteria for capability- and capacity-building activities,
* Require that any building codes and standards adopted with the use of BRIC funds be the latest published editions of relevant consensus-based codes and standards for hazard-resistant designs.
* Develop a policy that if a community uses BRIC funds to adopt relevant consensus-based building codes and standards for hazard-resistant designs, and then later "rolls-back" those codes and standards, the community is ineligible to apply for future BRIC assistance.
* Incorporate into the proposed BRIC policy guidance language that would encourage communities to exceed code requirements for certain natural hazards, like floods, hurricane winds, earthquakes, and fire.
c. Hazard Mitigation Planning
Hazard mitigation plans can be crucial for breaking the disaster damage and rebuilding cycle. Such plans help communities to identify risks to people and property from extreme weather and climate-related events, and to develop long-term strategies for mitigating those risks./14
Climate change will increase the frequency and magnitude of many of these events. Integrating climate change into the hazard mitigation planning process ensures risks are not being underestimated and that proposed risk reduction projects are appropriate.
The proposed policy guidance states
However, the proposed guidance does not provide any criteria as to what would constitute a satisfactory hazard mitigation plan, such whether a plan must assess climate change's effect on future disasters, and integrate that assessment into mitigation strategies.
Failure to account for how climate change already is exacerbating and will continue to exacerbate disaster events, and to develop appropriate mitigation strategies, undermines the purpose of the BRIC program to "categorically shift the federal focus away from reactive disaster spending and toward research-supported, proactive investment in community resilience."/19
In the eligibility criteria for capability- and capacity-building activities,
* Qualitative and quantitative discussion of climate change and other future conditions on a hazard-by-hazard basis in the plan's risk assessment, including how climate change impacts may exacerbate existing social inequities.
* Integration of that information into relevant mitigation strategies, and/or adaptation actions proposed in the plan.
d. Floodplain Mapping of Future Conditions as an Example of a "Resource, Strategy, or Tangible Mitigation Product."
Per the proposed guidance document, "all capability- and capacity-building activities should result in a resource, strategy, or tangible mitigation product that will reduce or eliminate risk and damage from future natural hazards, increase resiliency and public safety, or promote a culture of preparedness."/20
Given the breadth of potential activities that could satisfy such a mandate, applicants may find the decision-making process overly subjective absent further guidance. As such,
The proposed BRIC policy guidance must provide examples of what would constitute an activity that resulted in a "resource, strategy, or tangible mitigation product." Floodplain mapping that incorporates future conditions for purposes of codes enforcement should be one such example. Other examples
* Funding staff positions to oversee local resilience projects, such as personnel managing a home buyout program.
* Developing public communication products.
* Developing training plans for local government personnel.
* Conducting community engagement activities (e.g., to understand residents' priorities for hazard mitigation) and incorporating the collected information into local plans and policies.
* Preparing an inventory of local or state polices, standards, and regulations that may need to be updated to account for the effects of climate change.
II. Mitigation Projects
a. Prioritize Nature-Based Solutions for Flood Reduction Measures
The proposed BRIC policy guidance describes the funding of "large-scale infrastructure projects" as a guiding principle of the program./21
However, the proposed BRIC policy guidance does not appear to define what would constitute a large-scale infrastructure project. For example, the proposed guidance makes no reference to whether "green infrastructure" or nature-based solutions for flood reduction, such as living shorelines, would qualify. Absent clarification, applicants for BRIC funding may interpret the absence of such direction to mean that the BRIC program can be tapped to fund large-scale seawalls and levees, projects that are more appropriate for the
The BRIC program should not be used to fund massive seawalls and levees. Seawalls, levees or storm surge barriers are fixed in place, and generally only address one facet of multi-faceted risk.
Such projects would commit communities to current predictions for extreme weather and sea level rise. Large, permanent structures likely cannot not be adjusted if weather patterns, land use, or other risk factors change during the construction or operation phases. Instead, nature-based approaches, such as the use of green infrastructure, the restoration and expansion of existing natural features such as dunes, and the assisted relocation of residents most vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge, can be designed to address multiple dimensions of vulnerability.
Finally, large-scale structural projects, specifically seawalls and levees, tend to be proposed for the protection of higher value properties, leaving smaller communities and lower income people outside the scope of the project. The only way for the benefits to outweigh the costs of a large-scale structural intervention is for the value of the protected properties to be relatively high compared to the project costs. This automatically discriminates against smaller or poorer communities where property values are lower.
Instead, BRIC should prioritize natural and nature-based approaches to addressing flood risk. The use of natural and nature-based approaches, when properly sited and designed, are effective alternatives to "hardening" to protect against erosion and flooding. Appropriately designed living shorelines provide numerous co-benefits, like allowing for adaptation to the impacts of sea level rise and the preservation of coastal ecosystems, in addition to being a proven method for achieving shoreline stabilization. Many studies show that nature-based interventions in coastal areas that incorporate wetlands and other green infrastructure provide more economic, environmental, and resiliency value to communities."/22
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, for example, areas with established dunes and natural features fared much better in terms of damage and losses. According to the
Unlike hardened infrastructure projects, nature-based approaches can enhance the environment, such as restoring floodplain functions, and minimize inequities, like avoiding increased flood risks for communities downstream from a levee.
The proposed BRIC policy guidance must clearly state that large levee systems or seawalls are not an eligible mitigation project. In addition, the proposed BRIC policy guidance should incorporate language that establishes ecosystem restoration and/or nature-based mitigation projects as the preferred solutions.
b. Planned/Managed Retreat Projects
Helping people relocate from areas vulnerable to flooding and rising seas is another strategy that has multiple benefits, providing the only guaranteed and permanent mechanism for ensuring people's safety, reducing and eliminating the potential for damages, while also creating new areas where green infrastructure, natural infrastructure, and ecological restoration can further reduce a community's risk profile.
The BRIC program should prioritize the funding of these activities, as they are more localized, more environmentally sustainable, and more affordable than the construction and maintenance of large-scale structural solutions. For instance,
This delay often reduces their effectiveness for helping impacted community members escape harm's way and can exacerbate post-disaster inequities.
In contrast, the BRIC program provides communities an opportunity to conduct voluntary buyouts before the next disaster strikes. Communities would have the advantage of time to plan large-scale voluntary projects that reflect residents' needs, including the best use of post-buyout land use for achieving further disaster risk reduction. As sea levels rise and heavy precipitation events increase, traditional buyout projects will need to be scaled up to meet the growing risk of coastal and inland flooding.
The proposed BRIC policy guidance should include a section on supporting planned/managed retreat projects. In particular, the proposed guidance should favor planned/managed retreat projects. Given such projects require complex, multi-jurisdictional (federal, state, and local) involvement to support planning efforts, relocation and/or removal of businesses, home, and public infrastructure, and post-acquisition land-use, the BRIC program could fundamentally alter the ability of communities to undertake such mitigation projects before disaster strikes.
c. Flood Protection Standard
Flooding is the most common and costly natural hazard in
Communities already struggle to maintain aged and inadequate infrastructure. Flooding exacerbated by climate change will only continue this trend.
Designing infrastructure based on expected future conditions can reduce exposure and vulnerability.
However, current building standards require designing according to past climate conditions as an indication of future climate stresses. Climate change is the wrench thrown into the gears of that approach when it comes to flood risk, making the nation's aging infrastructure increasingly vulnerable flood damage.
Continuing to build or rebuild federally funded infrastructure to the height of the 100-year flood could adversely affect the longevity of such infrastructure's design life. In contrast, elevating or floodproofing structures multiple feet above the height of the 100-year flood level is a proven strategy to reduce flood-related damage.
The proposed BRIC policy guidance must require, as part of the Activity Eligibility Criteria for mitigation projects, a flood protection standard for all construction projects located in the 100-year floodplain. The flood protection standards should require the following:
* Two-feet of freeboard above the height of the 100-year flood for non-critical infrastructure projects
* Three-feet of freeboard above the height of the 100-year flood or the highwater mark, whichever is higher, for critical infrastructure.
d. Full Consideration of Future Climate Conditions in Coastal Areas
The climate is changing. The Fourth National Climate Assessment reports that more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events are expected "to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems" in communities across
The impacts from rising sea levels are a prime example. Coastal real estate and public infrastructure are threatened by "the ongoing increase in the frequency, depth and extent of tidal flooding due to sea level rise."/27
By the end of the century, parts of the coastal Northeast could witness high-tide flooding 45 to 130 days each year./29
In addition to tidal flooding, sea level rise is contributing to increased storm surge./30
Storm surges are abnormally high water levels generated by hurricanes, cyclones, and nor'easters, beyond what is expected from normal high tides, and they can cause extreme coastal and inland flooding./31
For example, Hurricane Sandy caused greater coastal flooding in
The proposed BRIC policy guidance requires mitigation projects "account for long-term changes to the areas and entities it protects and has manageable future maintenance and modification requirements."/33
The proposed BRIC policy guidance must require, as part of the Activity Eligibility Criteria for mitigation projects, a full consideration of future climate conditions, plus long-term benefits of mitigating future impacts, in the assessment and scoring for projects located in coastal areas that are susceptible sea level rise impacts.
Unclear, however, is whether the
If the latter,
IV. Benefit-Cost Analysis
Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) for the BRIC program should require applicants to consider the costs of inaction in adapting to climate change.
Thus, the impacts of sea level rise and increases in heavy rain events, which exacerbate future flood risk, are not considered in the risk assessment.
The latter is why
In the proposed BRIC policy guidance,
V. The Impacts of Climate Change are Exacerbating Existing Vulnerabilities in Communities and the Federal Government
Extreme weather disasters exacerbated by climate change are already inflicting significant economic and social repercussions. Planning for and investing in resilience to such disasters can minimize their impacts. The new BRIC program is an opportunity for states, tribes, territories, and local governments to prepare and investment in resilience proactively rather than retroactively.
However, the proposed policy guidance, while designed to be flexible to encourage innovation, must provide greater direction to applicants to avoid unintentionally hindering the purpose of the BRIC program to foster a prepared and resilient nation.
Attorney, Water and Climate Team
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1/ Fulden Batibeniz, et al., Doubling of
3/ Lorah Steichenv and
5/ FEMA Proposed Policy, Hazard Mitigation Assistance: Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, pg. 2, lines 38-40 (2020) (hereafter "BRIC policy guidance").
6/ See e.g.,
8/ Id. at 68
9/ Id. at 2
10/ Id. at 72
11/ See, BRIC policy guidance, pg. 4, line 128.
12/ NIBs report, pg. 40
15/ See BRIC policy guidance, pg. 4, line 127.
17/ See generally,
20/ See BRIC policy guidance, pg. 6, lines 167 - 170.
21/ See, BRIC policy guidance, pg. 2, line 43-45 (stating a guiding principle is to "[p]romote partnerships and enable high-impact investments to reduce risk from natural hazards with a focus on critical services and facilities, large-scale public infrastructure, public safety, public health, and communities") [emphasis added].
23/ NYCEDC, "Coastal Protection," in A Stronger, More Resilient New York, 2013, https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/filemanager/Resources/Studies/Stronger_More_Resilient_NY/Ch3_Coas tal_FINAL_singles.pdf.
24/ See generally,
26/ Fleming, E.,
28/ Nat'l Oceanic & Atmospheric Admin., NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 086, Patterns and Projections of High Tide Flooding Along the
30/ See 4th National Climate Assessment, pp. 322-352.
33/ See BRIC policy guidance, pg. 7, line 196-198
34/ See BRIC policy guidance, pg. 3, lines 60-77.
36/ 44 C.F.R. Sec. 206.434
37/ Georgetown Climate Center, "Preparing Our Communities for Climate Impacts: Recommendations for Federal Action" 26 (2014)
39/ Memorandum, from
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The notice can be viewed at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FEMA-2019-0018-0001
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