Nation

Trump infrastructure plan may ignore climate change

WASHINGTON — President Trump is expected to unveil a plan Monday that would fulfill one of his signature campaign promises: a $1.5 trillion, once-in-a-generation proposal to rebuild, restore, and modernize the nation’s aging infrastructure.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land,” Trump said in his State of the Union address.

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.

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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.

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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 Michael Kuby, a professor of geographical sciences and urban planning at Arizona State University. “That’s a whole lot of waste.”

Kuby is a contributing author of the National Climate Assessment, the federal government’s most comprehensive scientific study of the effect of global warming on the United States.

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

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

A White House spokeswoman declined to discuss whether climate change reports were considered in the preparation of Trump’s blueprint.

Since the beginning of his administration, Trump and his appointees have steadily worked to roll back climate change regulations.

Trump’s EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, has taken the lead role in the administration’s efforts to undo climate policies and question the validity of climate science. Last Wednesday, Pruitt suggested that global warming could benefit humanity. Those views are contradicted by research by his own agency.

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The 2017 EPA report warned that some 6,000 bridges nationwide face a greater risk of damage in coming decades from the effects of a warming climate.

‘If you think places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New England have potholes now, just wait.’

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.

“Say you’re going to build a new road in Denver that’s designed to last for 25 years,” said Paul Chinowsky, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “What climate science tells us is that, over the next 25 years, the climate in Denver is going to look more like the climate in Albuquerque.”

That means that the asphalt will have to be designed to withstand much higher levels of heat than a Denver road might historically have experienced, Chinowsky said.

“If you don’t do that,” he said, “It could double the cost of maintenance and the amount of delays on that road.”

In New England and the Upper Midwest, Chinowsky said, failing to account for climate change when planning the asphalt mix for roads there could mean that more rapid cycles of winter freezes and thaws could cause more potholes.

“If you think places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New England have potholes now, just wait,” he said.