ProJo Oped: To Win federal climate funds, RI must plan for it

The 730 pages of the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act include a veritable smorgasbord of climate policy initiatives. Looking for “clean energy” and transportation electrification incentives to transform our economy? They’re in there. Methane and greenhouse gas reduction programs? Yes indeed.

What about environmental justice? The IRA includes $9 billion to address climate-related public health disparities; negative environmental and social impacts of transportation projects; and air pollution at ports.  

For all these benefits, we have our Rhode Island congressional delegation to thank. They were instrumental in the passage of the law, which includes major funding support.

For us, the new law’s emphasis on climate resilience, as well as decarbonizing our economy, is crucial. The unfortunate reality: we are already dealing with often catastrophic changes to our climate, exacerbated by years of delay in addressing the issue. Just look across the country or the globe to see the impacts of all varieties of extreme weather. Communities are burning and flooding and fleeing these impacts.

As a coastal city, Providence is not just at risk from extreme weather – sea level rise will inexorably reclaim certain areas of the city even if we slow climate change. We are overdue for a major hurricane, we are experiencing a record-breaking drought, and if that drought breaks with inches of rain per hour as it has so many places, our rivers will swell and flood neighborhoods.

The good news is that effective strategies exist to deal with these risks, and innovation in climate resilience is accelerating every day. There are nature-based solutions and engineering technology advances to help cities like ours become more resilient as the weather keeps coming.

That’s why we are thrilled to see Inflation Reduction Act funding to address environmental and health risks from urban heat islands. There’s money to make affordable housing units more climate resilient and to implement climate resilience and adaptation programs for urban communities. Additional funding is also available to help coastal communities prepare for the rising sea level and increasing storm intensity.

As exciting as all this is, there is enormous competition for these federal dollars. As a city, we need robust comprehensive data to fully understand our climate risks and justify our funding requests. Planning is not the sexiest priority, but it is what distinguishes winning from losing applicants in the federal funding world.

The Providence Resilience Partnership has a bold plan to build Climate Ready Providence. We are actively seeking funding to complete a comprehensive climate vulnerability assessment. It will leverage much good work already done, such as the Climate Justice Plan and the Hazard Mitigation Plan, and bring to bear the latest in climate resilience thinking.

It will examine the climate risks in all our neighborhoods, from South Providence and the port area to our downtown business center to the places along the Woonasquatucket corridor. And this information is not just nice to know. It is the foundation for a Providence climate resilience roadmap.

This analysis lays the groundwork to go after meaningful federal funding to enhance our city’s climate resilience. It will identify those projects and strategies that will have the greatest impact in protecting our city and in the process of gathering this information, we can bring together the coalitions that federal funders look for.

The type of federal funding we are seeing will generate proposals from across the country, and the competition will be fierce. We need to position Providence to win.