FHWA Unveils $7.3B PROTECT Formula Program
At the end of last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration announced a first-of-its-kind infrastructure program to help states prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. The new $7.3 billion Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Formula Program funding is available through President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
The PROTECT program offers the funding to states over five years to make transportation infrastructure more resilient to future weather events and other natural disasters, such as wildfires, flooding and extreme heat. The focus will be on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure.
“In every part of the country, climate change is impacting roads, bridges, and rail lines that Americans rely on--endangering homes, lives and livelihoods in the process,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Using funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we're launching this unprecedented effort to help communities protect their transportation infrastructure from extreme weather and improve routes that first responders and firefighters need during disasters.”
According to the FHWA, in general, eligible projects include highway and transit projects, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and port facilities including those that help improve evacuations or disaster relief. States are encouraged to work with regional and local partner organizations to prioritize transportation, emergency response improvements and address vulnerabilities.
“We see the effects of climate change and extreme weather play out across the country every week, with extreme temperatures and rainfall and resulting flooding and wildfires that damage and in some cases destroy roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “The PROTECT Formula Program will help make transportation infrastructure more resilient to current and future weather events and at the same time make communities safer during these events.”
Eligible improvements can involve adapting existing transportation infrastructure or new construction to keep communities safe by bolstering infrastructure’s ability to withstand extreme weather events and other physical hazards. Additionally, projects may include the use of natural or green infrastructure to buffer future storm surges and provide flood protection, as well as aquatic ecosystem restoration.
The FHWA reports that PROTECT builds on other USDOT actions to support the Biden Administration’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. These actions include a proposed rule for states and municipalities to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; the Carbon Reduction Program, which will provide $6.4 billion in formula funding to states and local governments to develop carbon reduction strategies; and the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, which will provide $5 billion to states to build out a national electric vehicle charging network.
A breakdown of estimated funding for the program over five years by state can be found here. A Notice of Funding Opportunity for the PROTECT Discretionary Grant Program is expected to be released later this year.
Carbon Reduction Program
In April, the FHWA announced a $6.4 billion Carbon Reduction Program, created under the bipartisan infrastructure law. The formula funding will help states develop carbon reduction strategies and address the climate crisis, as well as expand transportation options to save money on gas.
The CRP will reportedly apply to a wide range of projects designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from on-road highway sources, including installing infrastructure to support the electrification of freight vehicles or personal cars, to construction bus corridors or facilitating micro-mobility and biking.
According to the FHWA’s press release, under the CRP, states must also develop carbon reduction strategies in consultation with Metropolitan Planning Organizations to identify projects and strategies tailored to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their states. However, localities can begin using these funds even before plans are developed and reviewed.
According to the fact sheet, eligible projects include, but are not limited to:
Funding was announced by state in the Fiscal Year 2022 Federal-aid Highway Program apportionments, determined by a formula set by Congress. $52.5 billion will go to states for this fiscal year, with $6.4 billion in total being distributed over five years.
Climate Crisis Plan
Prior to the passing of the infrastructure law, in 2020 following the announcement of Joe Biden as the President-elect, the Biden-Harris Administration released its plan regarding climate change, highlighting the administration’s early priorities.
At the time, the Biden-Harris transition team looked at one form of technology it believes will be welcomed by a normally divided Congress: carbon capture and storage (CCS). While the technology isn’t specifically outlined in the transition document, CCS and other forms of negative emission technology has been long promoted by Biden throughout his time as presidential candidate and was noted in his campaign climate plan.
Earlier forms of the plan also mentioned various reforestation, agricultural practices, and also plans to look at battery storage, renewable hydrogen, advanced nuclear and building materials.
Overall, Biden intended to dedicate $1.7 trillion to overhaul energy, transportation, agriculture and other sectors. According to the transition document, the team planned to go beyond just recommitting the nation to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and aims to build a more resilient, sustainable economy through the creation of union jobs within these new investments.
Biden’s planned investments included infrastructure, the auto industry, transit, the power sector, buildings, housing, innovation, agriculture and conservation and environmental justice.
Other US Climate Resiliency Plans
In February, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued the Allocations for Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery and Implementation of the CDBG-DR Consolidated Waivers and Alternative Requirements Notice (2020 CDBG-DR Notice).
The action reportedly opens access to more than $2 billion in federal funds to help communities equitably recover and improve long-term resilience to disasters and future climate impacts.
According to HUD’s Consolidated Notice, Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grantees will be required to incorporate disaster mitigation measures into all its recovery activities involving construction and explain how it plans to advance equitable distribution of the disaster recovery assistance.
The Consolidated Notice applies to more than $2 billion in CDBG-DR funds allocated by the Department in November 2021, funds appropriated in the continuing resolution and the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act (PL 117-43; the Act), which was signed into law on Sept. 30, 2021.
At the time of its signing, the PL 117-43 appropriated $5 billion in CDBG-DR funds with a focus on mitigation for major disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021. Allocation of the remaining funds will be made over the next few months to address unmet needs from disasters occurring in 2021.
A full list of states, allocations and disasters covered is available here.
To ensure the Department’s climate and equity goals for the nation are met, it plans to:
In June, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Biden-Harris Administration announced a national initiative to advance building codes. To announce the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes, Criswell and Deputy National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi traveled to Miami to meet with experts in climate resilience, building safety and efficiency on June 1.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House on the same day, the new building codes initiative will boost resilience to the impacts of climate change, lower utility bills for homes and businesses, and prioritize underserved communities.
The initiative sets out to help state, local, Tribal and territorial governments adopt the latest, current building codes and standards created to make communities more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change.
While the White House reports that nearly two out of every three communities have failed to adopt modern building codes, smart design or updated construction methods, earlier this year President Biden’s National Climate Task Force approved the new National Initiative to Advance Building Codes to accelerate the process.
The combination of efforts is slated to improve resiliency, create good-paying jobs and lower energy bills. Through the initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration will:
The Administration went on to note that communities that have already adopted modern building codes are saving an estimated $1.6 billion a year in avoided damage from major hazards, with projected cumulative savings of $132 billion through 2040—a figure that will become much higher if more communities adopt modern codes.
In a recent analysis where states were categorized based on building code uptake, FEMA found that 39 states fell into the lowest category—meaning that less than 25% of the state’s communities were covered by the latest hazard-resistant codes. On a nationwide scale, FEMA added that roughly 35% of counties, cities and towns have the latest codes in place.
To address this issue, in an all-of-government commitment made by the Biden-Harris Administration, key federal agencies will collaborate through a Mitigation Framework Leadership Group (MitFLG) to increase support and incentives for modern code adoption.
The federal government plans to achieve these goals by undertaking a comprehensive review of agency programs that support new construction or substantial rehabilitation of homes and other buildings, through grants, loans, funding, financing or technical assistance.
As part of this holistic review, which will be reported to the National Climate Task Force, additional specific efforts include: