The Congress is considering today (January 15, 2013) the Sandy Relief bill. NRDC wrote the Congress to support the bill and oppose the amendments intended to tie the hands of local officials and reduce the effectiveness of smart rebulding efforts.
The bill was offered in two pieces, a $17 billion bill and a Frelinghuysen amendment that brought the bill to a level much closer to the Senate bill. (The Senate bill was from the last Congress, so the Senate has to start over). The Frelinghuysen Amendment is desperately needed to rebuild the affected communities along our Atlantic coast. Such a package must ensure that redevelopment is smart, efficient and safe. Of particular importance is the $476 million for NOAA currently included in the amendment that would provide affected states and communities with the science and data necessary to understand how the shoreline has changed, where the risks are, what will the storm surge will be and would provide funds to protect and restore habitats that can best protect communities from storm surges. We need this funding now to rebuild in a smarter and safer way. By effectively preparing coastal areas for more intense storms, flooding, rising seas and other extreme weather through ecosystem restoration, we can mitigate future loss of life and damage and protect people and communities.
Waiting to fund these actions at some late date, as some have suggested, would risk putting the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy in harms’ way again and end up costing many times more than rebuilding smart the first time.
Specifically, we support inclusion of the following provisions:
- $50 million for NOAA for mapping, charting, damage assessment, and marine debris coordination and remediation;
- $360,000,000 for the Department of Interior to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other Federal public assets, including fund to increase the resiliency and capacity of coastal habitat and infrastructure to withstand storms and reduce the amount of damage caused by such storms.
- $10.9 billion of support for rebuilding public transportation would help the region recover from catastrophic flooding of subway stations and tunnels as well as extensive damage to buses and other transit vehicles. It would also help an aging system to prepare for future extreme weather events through modifications to address a major flooding vulnerability, retrofitting older lines with flood gates. Such forward-looking project is indispensable for maintaining vital transportation services in the face of expected extreme weather events.
- $118 million dollars for capital and operating repairs of intercity rail are also necessary to help the region recover and prepare for future extreme events. Intercity rail tunnels into New York City flooded, and repairs and improvements are necessary to keep this vital travel system functioning.
- $600 million in the form of State and Tribal Assistance Grants for states affected by Hurricane Sandy through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. The storm surge from Hurricane Sandy damaged many sewage treatment facilities, resulting in the release of billions of gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage for a number of days after the storm, creating serious public health risks. These critical funds will repair water infrastructure and make it more resilient to future storms, natural disasters and other extreme weather events.
Amendments we oppose include:
- The Flores amendment would strike funding for Regional Ocean Partnerships. Regional Ocean Partnerships are STATE-driven efforts that began under the Bush Administration. In the Northeast these are state-driven agreements among the regions’ governors to work together on regional ocean and coastal management issues, such as addressing coastal hazards from extreme weather. The Regional Ocean Partnerships set their own regional priorities based on what the states want – the federal agencies don’t set the agenda. The partnerships in the area hit by Hurricane Sandy were both formed before the Obama Administration’s National Ocean Policy ever existed.
- The Broun amendment would cut funds for the Weather Bureau, funds critical if satellites will be fully operational to provide necessary data to predict future hurricanes.
- The Bishop amendment is overly broad and would even restrict the government from using funds donated by the public for voluntary land acquisition when such purchases could be critical in keeping dangerous development from imperiling homes and businesses. Officials should not be hamstrung by withholding the possible tool of federal land acquisition when that alternative may be the most cost-effective solution to reduce community storm risks.
The survivors of this disaster need Congress to act now and pass the funding to help put their lives and communities back on the path to normalcy.