When President Biden arrived in Lake Charles, La., Thursday to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure across the country, plywood was still covering windows that had broken from successive hurricanes that devastated the city last summer.
“I promise you we will rebuild better,” said Biden, speaking of the need to act in the wake of advancing climate change. “Better able to withstand storms that are getting heavier and more frequent than ever before.”
Just weeks after the start of hurricane season, climate experts are warning that Mr Biden’s government has not yet taken any steps to turn its promise to “rebuild better” into reality. They cite the failure to reintroduce a floodplain construction rule scrapped by former President Donald J. Trump, the lack of an overarching climate resilience strategy, and the fact that no senior executives have yet to be hired to manage this work to coordinate.
“You can’t just say we’ll have resilient infrastructure without a plan and definition of what that means,” said Alice Hill, who oversaw climate resilience during the Obama administration.
The concerns expressed so far regarding Mr Biden’s measures illustrate the difference between two different areas of climate protection measures. In addition to reducing emissions of gases to warm the planet, experts are increasingly calling on the federal government to prepare communities for the effects of this warming, such as: B. Worsening storms and rising seas.
These measures, which experts call climate adaptation, can be unpopular: they can include stricter and more expensive building standards in areas exposed to floods or hurricanes. to start with fewer houses to be built in these places; or even encourage people to leave.
The difficulty in talking about these steps is exactly why Mr Biden’s administration needs to include them on its climate change agenda, said Robert Freudenberg, vice president of energy and the environment for the Regional Plan Association, a planning group in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
However, combating climate adaptation and resilience has not been at the top of the agenda so far, said Freudenberg.
A White House spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement that “building resilience and adjustment is a key priority for President Biden”.
On his first day as president, Mr. Biden was commended by climate resilience experts for signing an executive order that the White House said reinstated an Obama-era flood risk rule.
The rule set higher standards for federally funded construction work in flood areas. It was overturned by Mr Trump after the housing industry announced it would raise costs.
Climate experts hailed Mr. Biden’s move as a critical step in ensuring that new homes, roads and other investments are protected from rising seas, stronger hurricanes and stronger storms. In particular, restoring the flood rule would help protect projects funded by the President’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure package.
But the government turned back last month, saying that Mr Biden’s order had actually not reinstated the flood rule. No reason was given. Mr. Patel did not respond to questions about the rule.
Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst with the Defense Council for Natural Resources, said the administration must put the flood rule in place. “Otherwise they run the risk of a lot of money going out the door to build things that fall into the water,” he said.
The administration has also worried climate resilience experts with their hiring decisions.
Mr Biden set up an office in the White House to coordinate domestic climate policy between the agencies, staffed by experts on energy and other issues. But nobody in this office is focused on resilience and adjustment policies.
Instead, these issues are coordinated by the Environmental Quality Council, which is seen as a less powerful bureau. The Council has not yet announced anyone who will take on this role.
The White House has also not nominated anyone to oversee resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one of the most important tasks for climate resilience policy in the federal government.
Garret Graves, a Louisiana Congressman and the top Republican on the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, said the government should emphasize climate resilience, an area that affects both Democrats and Republicans.
“We need to invest more in resilience programs,” he said. “We can reduce all emissions worldwide today, and we continue to assume that the seas will rise.”