As States Prepare for Disasters, They Acknowledge Things Will Get Worse

By: - January 29, 2020 12:00 am

A firefighter crosses Highway 154 while battling the Cave Fire in Los Padres National Forest, California, above Santa Barbara last year. Some California lawmakers are proposing a billion bond to invest in climate resilience, including wildfire prevention. Noah Berger/The Associated Press

Read more State of the States 2020 coverage from Stateline.

State lawmakers across the country are calling for huge investments to mitigate the effects of wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, droughts and other natural disasters made more devastating and frequent by climate change.

Following the hottest decade on record, which saw record-breaking wildfires in the West, extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, a years-long drought in California, and severe flooding in the Midwest, legislators in many states say it’s long past time to treat such events as the new normal — and invest accordingly.

“We’re going to see more and more of these impacts as the years go on,” said California state Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat. “We either invest in efforts on the ground right now or we pay a lot more down the line.”

The federal government is looking ahead as well. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is operating a $16 billion program to help coastal states prepare for natural disasters, a shift from the typical funding model of providing money after disasters have happened.

Even states whose leaders don’t publicly acknowledge the existence of climate change, such as Texas and South Carolina, have applied for federal dollars citing “changing coastal conditions” or “unpredictability,” the New York Times reported.

Texas wants to invest the federal money in flood control, removing homes from high-risk areas and helping local governments pay for projects. The state last year put more than $3 billion from its rainy day fund toward flood control.

Louisiana hopes to use federal dollars to better map flooding areas. That state already is undertaking its own sweeping plan to limit development and move residents out of areas most prone to flooding, while improving infrastructure in communities on higher ground that are likely to receive displaced populations from neighboring towns.

In New Orleans, leaders will be spending $500 million on infrastructure upgrades over the next five years, after residents in 2019 voted to authorize a bond to address flooding and other concerns.

“There’s more of an appetite among states for action, because there’s an increase in the disasters that we’re seeing,” said Beth Gibbons, executive director of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, an organization dedicated to climate resilience work.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.