Aerial photo of a highway overpass in Florida.
Overpass near Orlando Aerial photo of a highway overpass and traffic on State Road 429 (a toll road) near Orlando, Floria. Human development compromises wildlife habitat in the state and TNC Florida works with land owners, developers, and government entities to help preserve pieces of land critical to the preservation of wildlife species. May 2019. © Carlton Ward Jr.

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U.S. Senate Panel Clears Surface Transportation Bill Advancing Natural Infrastructure, Climate Solutions

A U.S. Senate panel today approved a bipartisan surface transportation bill that includes significant investments in nature-based infrastructure, enhanced resilience and programs to reduce carbon emissions.

The bill advanced by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee places a strong emphasis on leveraging nature-based solutions to repair, maintain and enhance the resilience of the country’s road infrastructure and recognizes the need to reduce emissions from the transportation sector – the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. 

This bipartisan investment recognizes the pivotal role nature should play in improving the resilience of our transportation infrastructure and makes an important step in addressing transportation’s contribution to climate change.

TNC's Director of North American Policy and Government Relations

“We know that our country’s road infrastructure needs significant work, and we know that nature can and must be part of the solution,” said Kameran Onley, director of North American policy and government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “This bipartisan investment recognizes the pivotal role nature should play in improving the resilience of our transportation infrastructure and makes an important step in addressing transportation’s contribution to climate change.”

The bill creates a new resilience grant program which, in part, calls for using more natural infrastructure to mitigate the risk of recurring damage from extreme weather events like flooding. And, it ensures new and repaired infrastructure would enhance local ecosystem conditions and improve community resilience in the face of future extreme weather events.

The bill also includes significant new investments in electric vehicle and alternative fuel infrastructure, efforts to reduce pollution at ports, and incentives to expand wildlife crossings to reduce vehicle impacts. It also creates a new process to establish measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

“Investing in the country’s infrastructure, reducing carbon emissions, making our roads safer for drivers and wildlife alike and improving the overall health of the ecosystems that surround our roadways will create a more sustainable and usable road system,” said Onley. “This bill will help create jobs, invest in community growth and improve public health.”

While the Conservancy welcomed the bill’s strengths, it also noted some shortcomings. The bill includes several changes to the environmental review and permitting processes for new projects, including limits on review time and documents. In addition, the bill does provide funding for forest roads, though not at the levels necessary to ensure critical access for emergency response, recreation and connecting underserved communities. It also codifies the Legacy Road program but omits the road decommissioning provision, an important tool, among others, for addressing water quality and fish habitat.

“While we support efforts to improve environmental review and permitting processes, we have concern that changes proposed in this bill go too far” said Onley. “The best way to improve the process and ensure that the voices of impacted communities are heard is to strengthen early and collaborative consideration of environmental issues and to make sure that reviewing agencies have the resources and expertise needed to conduct the process effectively and expeditiously. We also urge Congress to improve the forest roads provisions. We commend the sponsors for working together in a bipartisan fashion to address our country's road infrastructure needs, and we hope to see continued momentum for similar efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.