Climate of worry over Trump's plan for infrastructure

Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. The Trump infrastructure blueprint is likely to call for expensive new roads, bridges, airports and other projects in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to rising waters and other threats from a warming pl
Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. The Trump infrastructure blueprint is likely to call for expensive new roads, bridges, airports and other projects in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to rising waters and other threats from a warming planet.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Projects worth $2 trillion at risk if US govt ignores climate change

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump is expected to unveil today a plan that would fulfil one of his signature campaign promises: a US$1.5 trillion (S$2 trillion), once-in-a-generation proposal to rebuild, restore and modernise the nation's ageing infrastructure.

"We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land," Mr Trump said in his State of the Union address on Jan 30.

But while the proposal represents one of the administration's main legislative ambitions, it could directly clash with one of its defining regulatory principles, which is to question the risk from global warming and roll back regulations addressing climate change.

The Trump infrastructure blueprint is almost bound to call for expensive new roads, bridges, airports and other projects in areas that are increasingly vulnerable to rising waters and other threats from a warming planet. Engineers and researchers say that construction plans should consider these design constraints at the outset.

Their concern is that a plan led by a White House that has both discounted climate science and weakened climate change regulations could mean that costly projects may be vulnerable to damage or, in a worst-case scenario, quickly rendered obsolete by the changing environment.

"The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards," said Professor Michael Kuby, who studies geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University.

"That's a whole lot of waste," said Prof Kuby, who is also a contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, the federal government's most comprehensive scientific study of the effect of global warming on the United States.

Climate change already poses one of the most significant threats to US infrastructure, according to dozens of scientific and engineering studies, including several prepared by the federal government.

A 2017 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that, through the end of the century, up to US$280 billion will be needed to adapt the nation's roads and railways to the effects of a warming climate.

The report warned that some 6,000 bridges face a greater risk of damage in coming decades from the effects of a warming climate. It provides analysis showing that "proactive adaptation" - essentially, planning for global warming before you build - could save the government up to 70 per cent in future costs of repairing damage caused by climate change-driven weather events such as deluges, coastal flooding and heat waves.

Other scientific studies make the case that rising sea levels will erode coastal highways in Florida while more powerful heat waves will melt asphalt across the south-west.

Since the start of his administration, Mr Trump and his appointees have steadily worked to roll back climate change regulations. Mr Trump's EPA chief, Mr Scott Pruitt, has taken the lead role in the efforts to undo climate policies and question the validity of climate science. Last Wednesday, he suggested that global warming could benefit humanity - views contradicted by his own agency's research.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss whether climate change reports were considered in the preparation of Mr Trump's blueprint, saying only: "The President's team spent almost a full year formulating his infrastructure plan and all relevant scientific data was considered."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Climate of worry over Trump's plan for infrastructure'. Print Edition | Subscribe