Recent legislative action on resilience to climate change and natural disasters

At the 18th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO on July 9, 2015, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) announced plans to reintroduce bipartisan legislation to improve the federal government’s ability to plan and prepare for the risks associated with climate change and extreme weather events, with no costs to taxpayers. On July 23, he and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) reintroduced the Preparedness and Risk Management for Extreme Weather Patterns Assuring Resilience (PREPARE) Act. The measure also aims to help state and local decision-makers and stakeholders create emergency preparation plans by informing them of successful examples and best practices.

In March 2015, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) also introduced two bills related to resiliency: the Coastal State Climate Change Planning Act (H.R.1276) and the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act of 2015 (H.R.1278). 

On June 22, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced finalists for the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). The first phase of the NDRC called for communities to develop comprehensive resilience plans with technical assistance from five regional “resilience academies,” hosted throughout 2015 by the Rockefeller Foundation, a non-governmental organization partnering with HUD for the competition. The phase two finalists will implement these resilience plans through proposed projects. Finalists include 40 states, counties or parishes, cities, and territories (a complete list of finalists is available in HUD’s Press Release). The selected projects will be funded by a $1 billion pool of HUD Disaster Recovery funds, of which $181 million will fund projects in New York and New Jersey in response to Hurricane Sandy. Projects may be funded by a minimum grant of $1 million and a maximum of $500 million.

The NDRC was launched by HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience in September 2014. In a November 2014 Environmental and Energy Study Institute briefing, “Advancing Resiliency: Competing for Innovative Investments,” speakers from HUD, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained that the competition encourages states and local communities affected by natural disasters to invest in recovery projects that simultaneously improve future resilience. Jurisdictions that were Presidentially-Declared Disaster Areas in 2011, 2012, or 2013 are eligible to receive NDRC funds, which include 48 states and 19 other jurisdictions.

Extreme weather and natural disasters have become more frequent and severe over recent decades in the United States. From 1958 to 2012, very heavy precipitation events have increased in every region except Hawaii, with a 71 percent increase in the Northeast. Average flooding damages from 1981 to 2010 amount to nearly $8 billion per year (adjusted to 2011 inflation). In New York and New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused billions of dollars in damage to power systems, transportation infrastructure, water and sewage facilities, as well as hundreds of thousands of homes, and led to the loss of 73 lives.

In response to these disasters, the NDRC encourages finalists to pursue forward-thinking, science-based projects that concurrently address recovery needs and enhance their community’s permanent economic and environmental resiliency. For example, a community suffering from flash flooding that washed away homes could construct housing in safer areas for survivors, while restoring wetlands to mitigate future flooding and provide recreation for residents. Such dynamic plans and projects promote collaboration among a range of stakeholders, including community members, engineers, architects, ecologists, sociologists, and economists from diverse agencies like housing authorities, chambers of commerce, and foundations. For instance, as part of Colorado’s phase one submission to the NDRC, Governor John Hickenlooper convened a coalition of more than 150 state and federal stakeholders to produce the State of Colorado Resiliency Framework to cultivate local resilience against floods, wildfires, and tornadoes.

Proposals for phase two of the NDRC are due in October and grant winners will be announced in early 2016. As summarized by Dr. Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, “Resilience is a journey, not a destination, and the time to build resilience is now, through a focus on strengthening social cohesion and making smart plans for communities through collaboration across sectors, so that investments - particularly in infrastructure - will yield multiple benefits, or what I call a resilience dividend.”


Author: Sunny Sowards

Editor: Ellen Vaughan



“Advancing Resiliency: Competing for Innovative Investments,” Environmental and Energy Study Institute

“Sandy Recovery Office,” Federal Emergency Management Agency

“2014 National Climate Assessment,” U.S. Global Change Research Program

“HUD Selects Finalists for National Disaster Resilience Competition,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

“Forty States and Communities Advance in $1 Billion National Disaster Resilience Competition,” The HUDdle, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

“Six Great Ideas from the National Disaster Resilience Building Competition,” The Rockefeller Foundation

“United States Flood Loss Report - Water Year 2011,” National Weather Service

“FACT SHEET: National Disaster Resilience Competition,” The White House