New U.S. Strategy Would Quickly Free Billions in Climate Funds
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Federal officials, showing how rapidly the Biden administration is overhauling climate policy after years of denial under former President Donald Trump, aim to free up as much as $10 billion at the Federal Emergency Management Agency to protect against climate disasters before they strike.
The agency, best known for responding to hurricanes, floods and wildfires, wants to spend the money to preemptively protect against damage by building seawalls, elevating or relocating flood-prone homes and taking other steps as climate change intensifies storms and other natural disasters.
“It would dwarf all previous grant programs of its kind,” said Daniel Kaniewski, a former deputy administrator at FEMA and now a managing director at Marsh & McLennan Cos., a consulting firm.
The FEMA plan would use a budgeting maneuver to repurpose a portion of the agency’s overall disaster spending toward projects designed to protect against damage from climate disasters, according to people familiar with discussions inside the agency.
In the past year, FEMA has taken a leading role in fighting COVID-19 — and the agency’s plan is to count that COVID spending toward the formula used to redirect money to climate projects. Doing so would allow the Biden administration to quickly and drastically increase climate-resilience funding without action by Congress, generating a windfall that could increase funding more than sixfold.
Michael M. Grimm, FEMA’s acting deputy associate administrator for disaster mitigation, said the agency’s initial estimates suggested that as much as $3.7 billion could be available for the program, called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC. By comparison, that program so far has just $500 million to award in grants.
More of that $3.7 billion “may be forthcoming,” Grimm said in a statement.
But the amount of new money could potentially climb to as much as $10 billion, according to some estimates, if FEMA also decided to count COVID dollars toward a similar fund, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, designed to help communities rebuild after a disaster. Grimm said the decision to provide that funding has not yet been made.
The proposal would not necessarily reduce the money available to address COVID, according to people familiar with the plan. Rather, it would give FEMA the ability to draw additional resilience money from the government’s dedicated disaster fund, which Congress routinely replenishes once the fund is drawn down.
FEMA’s plan would need to be approved by the White House budget office. After Biden’s win, members of his transition team said they saw the new funding as a way for the incoming administration to make good on its promise to address climate change.