White House Briefing on Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Guidebook: Resilience

March 17, 2022

 

White House Stakeholder Briefing: Resilience

Stephanie Sykes, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure Implementation, White House

A few weeks ago, the White House released a guidebook for state and local governments as a resource for stakeholders and is intended as a roadmap, and it contains the most comprehensive information the White House has to date on the more than 375 programs in the bipartisan infrastructure law. President Biden and the entire team here have made it a priority to make sure that we’re giving all the resources that are needed to make sure that this money hits the ground and reaches all corners of this country. Over $100 billion has been announced, allocated, or headed to states Territories, and local governments. There’s been some key plans and offices that have also been announced. The White House has also announced some public notice periods and that covers a lot of different areas, including clean energy, electric vehicles that will be discussed today. high-speed internet grid modernization lead pipes and paint orphan wells, and most recently, a Great Lakes Restoration announcement.

Winnie Stachelberg, Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator, Department of the Interior (DOI)

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes one of the most significant investments in ecosystem restoration in the country’s history. There is a pressing need to curtail the impacts of climate change, including droughts and wildland fires, and develop a long-term effective plan to effectively mitigate the effects of climate change in close partnership with state and local governments. Communities of color, low-income families, and rural, and indigenous communities have long suffered disproportionate cumulative harm from air pollution, water pollution, and toxic sites. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law allocates nearly $1.5 billion for reducing fire risk, helping recovery after a fire, helping communities prepare for and mitigate the threat of wildfires, supporting science, technology, and workforce reforms including increased pay and mental health and safety programs for firefighters. The Bipartisan infrastructural law includes $905 million for ecosystem restoration. These funds will support restoration on public, private and tribal lands benefiting the communities who depend on them. At least $400 million will be made available grants to states, territories, and tribes for voluntary restoration. This funding will directly create private sector state, tribal, and local jobs in forestry, land and water management, and related industries.

Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The USDA’s funding is focused on two agencies when it comes to resilience. The first is the Natural Resources Conservation Service Agency (NRCS) which is dedicated to the conservation of working lands, working with farmers, ranchers, forest owners, as well as local communities. The second agency is the U.S. Forest Service which manages the 193 million acres of the National Forest System. The NRCS is focused on watersheds, watershed restoration, and rehabilitation. The funding comes out to be a little more than $600 million, and that money will fund programs that work with local community states, local municipalities, tribes, and conservation districts. The programs are standing and have already been awarded $167 million. One of the programs is a watershed and plant prevention operations program. The program works with communities to design and construct a variety of projects to benefit watersheds and flood control. The Emergency Watershed Protection Program is used when a forest fire happens and there is a flood after the fire. This program works with local communities to restore the land. The Forest Service was given $4 billion worth of funding. The bulk of that funding will be used to restore national forests and deal with wildfire issues. Most of the funding will work on the National Forest Systems and the programs work with private companies to restore the lands. The forests in this country are denser and the climate change issues have increased the risks for forest fires. The Forest Service is holding roundtable discussions to help local communities understand how to get involved. There are also Wildfire Defense Grants, and these grants will help local communities develop plans and help with implementation. The funds for this program will not be awarded until 2023, so there is time for communities to develop plans.

Katherine Fox, Assistant Administrator for Mitigation, Federal Insurance, and Mitigation Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA will receive $5 billion worth of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, those funds will be used for mitigation and other projects. The Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program received $1 billion. The program will start to accept applications in September or 2022 and money projects will be awarded money in FY23. This program will help fund projects to build resilient infrastructure and will help communities before disasters to help build refinance. The Hazard Mitigation Revolving Loan Funds/Safeguarding Tomorrow Through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act has also received $500 million. This act authorizes FEMA to establish a Hazard Mitigation Revolving Loan funds through agreements with states. The Infrastructure Law allocated $3.5 billion for the Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants Program which will enable FEMA to increase their investments in communities that have repetitive flood losses. The program will also provide $800 million for dam safety and removal and provided an additional $1 billion for cybersecurity grants. FEMA is working to draft new guidelines that will address the significant increase in funding to some of the existing programs. FEMA will continue to align its priorities around incentivizing natural hazard risk reduction, mitigating community lifelines which are critical for communities to have functioning after a disaster occurs, focusing on incorporating nature-based solutions, and helping communities enhance their climate resilience and adaptation efforts.

 

Q&A:

Sykes asked Bonnie what resilience programs are available for rural communities. Bonnie said that all the USDA programs that were discussed today are focused on rural parts of the country including those areas that are near or in national forests and landscapes.

Sykes asked Stachelberg what the best way for tribes is to access technical assistance. Stachelberg said the DOI Bureau of Indian Affairs has significant reach into Indian country and the Bureau works with tribal governments across the country. DOI has made a point with much of the investment to ensure that consultations and listening sessions are happening with tribes and underserved communities. Bonnie said that the USDA has a list of MOUs out with tribal communities and that the USDA is encouraging partnerships with tribes across the country. Fox said that FEMA has set-asides specific funds for tribal communities in some of their programs.

Sykes asked what resilience funding is available for small and micro-businesses. Bonnie said the USDA is going to be funding local projects only, and those efforts are almost always done by small and local businesses. Contracting opportunities will be available for these small businesses as well.

Sykes asked Fox how agencies will ensure that projects are sustainable. Fox said that FEMA has tried to build sustainability into their programs. One way is that FEMA is going to look for nature-based solutions in applications and give those applications more weight in the decision-making process. FEMA is working to ensure that there are several resources available to encourage sustainable investments.