Infrastructure Investments Support Communities and NatureNew bridge over Raccoon Creek in Georgia. Credit: TNC
by Nancy Clair Laird McInaney, Board Chair, The Nature Conservancy – Georgia
The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law by the president last week offers an extraordinary opportunity to address critical needs in communities across Georgia and the country. Its investments in energy, transportation and natural infrastructure will support valuable jobs and economic development.
The bill – officially known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — was a true bipartisan achievement, backed by members of Congress across the political spectrum. I am grateful to those in Georgia’s congressional delegation who helped secure its passage.
Much of the praise for the bill has understandably focused on how this funding will enhance roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. I’d like to highlight some of the ways it will also help to advance conservation.
Natural Infrastructure: The infrastructure bill underscores the vital role nature plays in making our communities stronger and safer. It establishes a clear definition of “natural infrastructure” that recognizes how natural ecosystems help communities manage flooding and other risks. (A 2017 study conducted by The Nature Conservancy and partners documented the role that coastal wetlands played in preventing more than $625 million in property damages during Hurricane Sandy.) With enactment of the infrastructure bill, natural infrastructure solutions are now more widely eligible for funding.
Fish and Wildlife: The package provides funding to support restoration of aquatic, forest and other vital ecosystems, benefiting both nature and those communities whose jobs and economies are tied to sustaining healthy forests and wildlife habitats. This might include, for example, upgrading aging water culverts in ways that would enhance roadway safety, improve water quality, and provide fish and aquatic life with better mobility and habitat. The intersection of transportation and nature receives another boost in the package by providing funds for the construction of wildlife crossings in strategic locations to reduce the incidence of vehicle-wildlife collisions.
Community Resilience: Georgia’s coastal communities will have access to expanded funding to improve their resilience to storms and rising seas, including resources to support flood protection, pre-disaster risk reduction and resilience enhancement. Funding to mitigate the danger of wildfires could further enhance the state’s use of prescribed burning to maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfire.
Clean Energy: Any efforts to safeguard our communities and lands for future generations must be complemented by a successful drive to reduce our state’s carbon emissions. The infrastructure bill’s provisions supporting clean energy move us forward on that path, funding a range of measures that will have meaningful impact on reducing emissions and enhancing the quality of our lives. From support for clean energy development and enhanced energy efficiency to improvements making our transportation options cleaner and our power grid more resilient, the infrastructure package catalyzes the kind of progress we must make to meet the challenge before us. The additional clean energy provisions in the anticipated Build Back Better legislation will further accelerate this progress.
Broadband: Think broadband expansion isn’t a conservation concern? Guess again. The pandemic revealed the gaps our communities face regarding internet access, particularly in rural areas. The internet is key to how we learn about our world now. It can spark and sustain a student’s interest in nature. It can connect aspiring naturalists to education opportunities and jobs. The infrastructure funding will help us fill the gaps to ensure more equitable access for all.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides us with an unprecedented opportunity. The investments we make now at the federal, state and local levels will drive tangible improvements for our communities and natural lands. Implementing these improvements will provide many good-paying jobs that benefit families across our state and country. As we mobilize to tap these funds, let’s use the power of public-private partnerships to work together to seize this opportunity for Georgia.