Driving Resilience: How the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can support widespread climate resilience

August 11, 2022

Resilience is integrated throughout sections of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (H.R. 3684, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) and includes programs that can help alleviate the impacts communities face from extreme weather, flooding, storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires.

IIJA was signed into law on November 15, 2021 and provides historic levels of investment for infrastructure — $550 billionSee footnote 1  in new spending over five years and $650 billion for existing programs, totaling $1.2 trillion.See footnote 2  The law creates many opportunities for states, tribes, and local governments to invest those funds in equitable, climate-smart infrastructure. For example, IIJA includes new funded programs designed to help reduce emissions and build resilience in the transportation sector, as well as better integration of climate change into existing program purposes and goals. 

While many observers, including Georgetown Climate Center (GCC), have pointed out the ways IIJA can help to reduce the emissions that cause climate change, less attention has been paid to IIJA’s potential to help make communities and infrastructure more equitably resilient to the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change. And this historic investment comes at a time when, now more than ever, jurisdictions are recognizing the need to prioritize equitable climate adaptation and resilience investments to protect communities.

Resilience in IIJA

The White House has stated that “over $50 billion” in IIJA is dedicated to resilience.See footnote 3 However, this figure understates how much IIJA money can actually be used for resilience and climate adaptation.

Mixed-use development in Columbus, Ohio
Photo Credit: Paul Sableman

IIJA contains programs — such as the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) Program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program (BRIC), and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid Program — that have the term “resilience” in the program title and are clearly targeted at building resilience to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. 

Other major formula funding programs — such as DOT’s National Highway Performance Program do not explicitly refer to resilience in the title, but are better integrating resilienceSee footnote 4  into the program purposes and eligibility as a result of IIJA. 

There are also programs — such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Community-Based Restoration Projects, DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program, and the Department of Health and Human Services’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — whose program titles and listed purposes do not explicitly mention building resilience, but the program’s effect will build resilience. 

Importantly, across implementation of all of IIJA, Executive Order 14052, signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021, requires federal agencies to prioritize “building infrastructure that is resilient and that helps combat the crisis of climate change.”See footnote 5 

Students cultivate green space as part of a resilience initiative.

In sum, at GCC, we see resilience woven throughout the entirety of IIJA, even if it is not clearly identified as such. Infrastructure by its very nature is intended to be built to last for decades; so it is imperative that as IIJA resources are invested, decisionmakers take into account the longer-term climate risks and vulnerabilities that science shows us are coming. And because climate is affecting every aspect of society, federal and state agencies must approach adaptation and resilience work collaboratively and in partnership with the private sector, non-profits, faith communities and more, working together to leverage all available resources to the benefit of communities particularly disadvantaged communities.

GCC’s New Online Resource 

To help decisionmakers, community members, and organizations identify resources available for resilience in IIJA, GCC has created a new online resource, Resilience in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

We reviewed IIJA to find not just the explicit resilience-related language in the law, but also programs in which funds for resilience are less obvious. The resource details the funding that IIJA provides for new and existing programs that have resilience features. Our goal is that this resource helps make it more likely that IIJA is implemented in ways that maximize the potential for equity, emission reductions, and resilience. This resource organizes the programs according to six sectors: (1) Transportation; (2) Energy, Buildings, & Development; (3) Natural Resources, Ecosystems, & Agriculture; (4) Water Infrastructure; (5) Coastal; and (6) Preparedness & Emergency Response. 

The resource also lists new requirements for federal agencies that relate to resilience. Though IIJA presents many funding opportunities, the law also imposes various new requirements on federal agencies that can have positive impacts in regards to building resilience. For example, IIJA requires the Federal Highway Administration to “update and reissue” the 2014 and 1997 “best management practices report to reflect new information and advancements in stormwater management,” and requires the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security acting through FEMA, to establish a commission that will study and make recommendations to improve preventing and managing wildland fires and rehabilitating land devastated by wildland fires.

Explore GCC's New Resource on Resilience in IIJA
Regional and Federal Interagency Collaboration

We also found potential opportunities to use IIJA resilience funds for regional projects and activities. Regional collaboratives may take a variety of forms, but generally are networks that bring together local governments, other public agencies, and often nonprofits, universities, and other private and non-governmental partners to seek greater coordination of adaptation efforts across a region.See footnote 6 Though climate impacts rarely respect state or county boundaries, some communities — such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities — are disproportionately impacted by natural disasters due to structural barriers and institutional racism.See footnote 7 Establishing regional collaboratives and working towards cross-jurisdictional solutions can be an important step to building equitable and comprehensive climate adaptation solutions and uplifting the voices of BIPOC and low-income communities. Additionally, capacity is, and for the foreseeable future remains, an ongoing challenge for every level of government in implementing IIJA. However, by working on a regional scale, states and local governments can pool resources to better support their communities, especially those facing capacity challenges. 

In a separate section, the resource highlights the resilience programs in IIJA that have collaborative features, which may present opportunities for regional collaboratives or networks to coordinate and secure IIJA funding for resilience-building activities. 

In addition to regional collaboration, federal interagency collaboration is important to achieving equitable climate adaptation solutions. This resource is also intended to inform and help improve federal interagency collaboration for the benefit of communities, demonstrating how, with creativity, federal agencies can more easily support communities to leverage federal resources and be supported by a whole-of-government approach to securing climate mitigation and adaptation outcomes. And while not every federal agency receives funding through IIJA, they must still be involved in order to fully realize a whole-of-government approach to supporting communities. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is not included in IIJA, but through annual appropriations to support the likes of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and CDBG-Disaster Recovery and with a history of working closely with DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency to support communities, HUD’s resources must also be leveraged.

Future Research Questions

GCC has also begun researching additional questions related to IIJA to further inform state, regional, local, and tribal governments. Additional research questions include: 

  • Which programs in IIJA that have resilience/adaptation features are offering technical assistance? 
  • Which programs in IIJA either do not have state and local match requirements or provide opportunities to reduce those requirements?
  • How do the resilience/adaptation opportunities in IIJA overlay with Justice40?
  • What resilience/adaptation opportunities exist in IIJA for tribes? 
  • Which programs in IIJA can be used for buyouts and conservation land acquisitions, which can be used to facilitate managed retreat strategies?

Answers to these questions will be added to the Resilience in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act analysis in the upcoming months. If there is interest in collaborating with GCC on any of these or other IIJA resilience-related questions, please email climate@georgetown.edu

IIJA provides many new potential resilience funding opportunities. Policymakers, community members, and organizations can integrate resilience at the heart of their use of formula funds and grant applications, apply for funding they may have not previously considered, and work regionally to make equitable resilience improvements across jurisdictions. IIJA provides a significant opportunity to fund projects that center equity and climate adaptation in decisionmaking processes, which can result in long-lasting, climate-smart, and equitable action for communities across the nation.