Her bill would allow roads and bridges destroyed by extreme weather to be built to higher standards without penalty.
Two topics given short shrift during the Trump administration—infrastructure and climate change—are not only seeing fresh initiatives in President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, they’re also being combined in a new bipartisan bill that removes the disincentive for infrastructure damaged by extreme weather to be rebuilt to withstand the next major storm.
Along with her support of Biden’s American Jobs Plan, Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is a co-sponsor of legislation that provides more flexibility to state and local governments that need help from the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program.
“I can tell you,” Baldwin said, “that since I’ve been a US senator, I have on numerous occasions visited areas in the northwoods after extreme weather events, where entire roads have washed out and [needed] emergency repairs after an extreme weather event.”
Currently, Baldwin said, rebuilding must be done to pre-disaster specifications in order to qualify for assistance, making such projects vulnerable to damage from worsening storms.
“The standard is you repair it and you put it back the way it was,” Baldwin said in an interview with UpNorthNews. “You risk losing federal reimbursement if you improve the infrastructure to make it more resilient. I want to see us be able to make the sort of changes when we’re repairing a damaged infrastructure so that it will withstand the next extreme weather event. And we know they’re coming with more frequency.”
Co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana), the Rebuilding Stronger Infrastructure Act requires the Federal Highway Administration to help states identify ways to incorporate climate-based resiliency into projects supported by the Emergency Relief Program.
“This reform will not only ensure we are better protecting our infrastructure,” said Baldwin, “but it will also save taxpayer dollars by making sure we are building it back better.”
A related bill, the Built to Last Act, co-sponsored with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), is designed to assist local governments and private companies in building more climate resilient infrastructure to withstand extreme storms. Organizations that issue building codes and other standards will receive federal assistance with accessing the best available information on weather-related risks, including floods, hurricanes and wildfires.
Baldwin and Braun are also co-sponsors of the Made in America Act to strengthen Buy America requirements for the federal government. The proposal would identify federal programs that fund infrastructure projects and are not currently subject to Buy America standards. By expanding the requirement, Baldwin said it ensures that materials used in these federal programs are domestically produced, and support US manufacturers and other businesses as well as their workforce.