“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land,” President Donald Trump proclaimed during his State of the Union address last month, and now he has revealed his plans for making that proclamation come true.
There's a catch, though: the $1.5 trillion plan might not account for the effects of climate change, which could make any investments far more costly in the future.
The Trump infrastructure blueprint is almost certain 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.
Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University and contributing author to the National Climate Assessment, said the administration is setting the country up for "a whole lot of waste":
“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."
Though no one from the administration has explicitly stated that climate change was disregarded in drawing up the proposal, numerous Trump administration officials, including the president himself, have questioned the underlying science of climate change.
A White House spokeswoman, who asked to remain anonymous because the plan was not yet public, declined to discuss whether climate change reports were considered in the preparation of Mr. Trump’s blueprint. “The president’s team spent almost a full year formulating his infrastructure plan and all relevant scientific data was considered,” she said in an emailed statement.
Since the beginning of his administration, Mr. Trump and his appointees have steadily worked to roll back climate change regulations. Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. chief, Scott Pruitt, has taken the lead role in the administration’s efforts to undo climate policies and question the validity of climate science. On Wednesday, Mr. Pruitt suggested that global warming could benefit humanity.
Ignoring the impacts of climate change will create dangerous and costly situations down the road. According to an EPA report released last year, about 6,000 bridges in the U.S. are more at risk of failing in the the next decades due to climate change.
It provides analysis showing that “proactive adaptation” — essentially, planning for global warming before you build — could save the government up to 70 percent in future costs of repairing damage caused by climate change-driven weather events such as deluges, coastal flooding and heat waves.
Eugene S. Takle, director of the climate-science program at Iowa State University, put it in simple terms:
“With climate change and infrastructure, it’s pay me now, or pay me later. Pay a lot more later.”