Here's what an infrastructure plan needs to prepare us for the future

President Trump announced the outline of his long awaited infrastructure plan during his first State of the Union address Tuesday night. While broad bipartisan support exists for addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs, how to fund the $1.5 trillion plan continues to be a significant point of contention.

The president’s remarks confirmed rumors that have swirled for weeks about plans for leveraging federal dollars to catalyze public and private investment, and close critical infrastructure funding gaps. How these approaches materialize in a final plan is anyone’s guess, but after experiencing $306.2 billion in natural disaster-related damages in 2017, one thing remains abundantly clear, an infrastructure plan that fails to integrate and prioritize resilience and sustainability will lock the U.S. into a costly business-as-usual development pathway that makes us ill prepared for a changing climate. Unfortunately, the risks posed by rising sea levels and extreme storms are only the tip of the iceberg. A new report from Moody’s warns cities and states of potential credit downgrades from failing to develop climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The U.S. faces a $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap through 2025. Failing to close this gap has serious economic consequences including losses to GDP, business sales, and jobs. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates failing to close the infrastructure investment gap costs US families $3,400 in disposable income per year. Filling this gap will not only require active partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors, but also a commitment to inform our infrastructure investment decisions with the latest available science and technology. Infrastructure that integrates principles of sustainability and resilience fits that bill.

As detailed in “Unlocking Private Capital to Finance Sustainable Infrastructure,” resilient and sustainable infrastructure provides cost-effective solutions that address critical infrastructure funding gaps and the physical risks posed by a changing climate. Sustainable infrastructure enables limited public resources to have a greater impact by integrating environmental and social goals. Taking these goals into consideration right-sizes infrastructure demand, yielding more cost-effective approaches for providing infrastructure services.

Dakota Gangi, Sustainable Finance and Impact Investing Manager and William K. Bowes, Jr. Fellow, EDF+Business

Fortunately, proactive planning by cities and states can lead to smarter infrastructure solutions that strike an appropriate balance between traditional gray infrastructure, and green and natural infrastructure – and investors want to help. Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan (CMP) provides a perfect example. In response to its coastal land loss crisis, the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority assembled a broad coalition of public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders to develop its first comprehensive Coastal Master Plan in 2007. Updated on a five-year basis, the CMP includes a combination of gray and natural infrastructure projects to protect and restore the Louisiana coastline and Mississippi River Delta. Similarly, The City of Boston launched the Climate Ready Boston initiative and New York City introduced the 1.5°C: Aligning New York City With the Paris Climate Agreement, to develop resilient solutions that prepare it for climate change. The initiative identifies green and gray infrastructure projects that will protect the city’s residents, businesses, and critical infrastructure systems from coastal flooding and sea level rise.

The Trump administration has an incredible opportunity to put the US on the right track by incentivizing smart, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure. Incorporating these principles into infrastructure planning and investment will allow limited public resources to go further and maximize the economic, social, and environmental benefits that these projects provide. States, cities, investors, credit rating agencies, insurance providers, and many more continue to recognize how important sustainable infrastructure is to the future of the US economy.

If we really want to “Make America Great Again”, let’s put our best foot forward and build the infrastructure of the future – sustainable infrastructure.


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