The science is clear. Climate change is real, it is human caused, and it has already altered Connecticut’s climate. Governor Lamont’s proposal addresses the rising seas, frequent flooding, heat waves, and drought we can expect to see in the state between now and 2050. It prioritizes the protection of our frontline vulnerable communities who will feel those effects first and worst. It provides Connecticut’s communities more options to move from adaptation and resilience planning to implementing their project pipeline, including the use of nature-based and green infrastructure solutions. It builds upon the Connecticut Green Bank’s success and leadership financing clean energy investments. It sets Connecticut up for the growing federal investment in resilience projects, which will require a local match, particularly in the new Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities grant program projected to grow from $500 million in FY20 to up to $3.7 billion in the coming years.
The science is clear. Climate change is real, it is human caused, and it has already altered Connecticut’s climate. Future impacts include up to 20 inches of sea level rise, increased frequency of flooding with water levels like those experienced during Superstorm Sandy every 5 to 10 years, increased average temperatures of 5°F and heat waves, increased drought risk, increased frequency of extreme rainfall events, and greater amounts of precipitation and stronger winds during storm events. The estimated insured value of Connecticut coastal property exposures in 2018 was $754 billion, which makes the state the 6th highest of the Atlantic and Gulf states. As a percentage of a state’s total insured values, Connecticut is 2ndonly to Florida with coastal property making up 66% of its statewide total insured value.
The good news is that with aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in our state, across the nation, and world, we can avoid the catastrophic and extremely costly effects of climate change projected for the latter half of this century. But we must also adapt and become more resilient to effects we have already baked into our state’s climate.
Prioritizing vulnerable communities
Research indicates that climate change related events have a disproportionate effect on people of color and low- to moderate-income communities. Vulnerable communities have a heightened degree of exposure to impacts and limited capacity to minimize and respond to them. Climate change poses the greatest threat to vulnerable communities that are least responsible for it. Vulnerable communities face historic and ongoing injustices including, but not limited to, restricted access to credit and homeownership, inadequate public and private investment, and discriminatory development related decision-making and policy processes enabling pollution within these communities. Given this reality, climate funding and financing mechanisms for adaptation and resilience must acknowledge these equity disparities and overcome them by prioritizing approaches that reduce these inequities. Building on the expansion of the state’s microgrid program in passed in the special session to now include resilience projects and prioritize those grants for vulnerable communities, this bill ensures there are more resources available to vulnerable communities at municipal level that will enable them to live, learn, and work in resilient communities. The bill requires municipalities to analyze how vulnerable communities are prioritized in projects undertaken by the new flood prevention, climate resilience and erosion control boards.
Funding the project pipeline
Recognizing the importance of looking ahead to future climate change needs, Connecticut has been planning our resilient future. The state invested millions of state and federal funds in resilience and adaptation planning, including 32 coastal resilience plans funded by our Sandy disaster recovery program and municipal hazard mitigation and watershed management plans across the state. Each of these plans may include dozens of conceived projects. A regional resilience planning effort led by the Councils of Governments identified 400 projects in 30 coastal communities’ plans alone. Connecticut has also invested in the science needed to better inform these projects, through the creation of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), which is now leading Resilient Connecticut. The Resilient Connecticut team is translating the science into projects that will result in significant regional benefit. Many of these plans incorporate nature-based and green infrastructure solutions like living shorelines, rain gardens, bioswales, tree planting, and preservation of open space to address the impacts of climate change.
The time is now to move from planning to implementation. This proposal provides financing and funding tools to put these plans into action. The creation of stormwater authorities, municipal option for buyer’s conveyance fee, and flood prevention, climate resilience and erosion control boards give municipalities a way to manage and pay for projects directly, but also give them a revenue stream to pay back financing. That financing would be provided by an environmental infrastructure bank within the Connecticut Green Bank.
Accelerating climate financing in Connecticut
Globally, roughly half a trillion dollars of investment flow into climate finance (i.e., mitigation and adaptation projects); the global need, however, is on the order of $1.6-3.8 trillion. The share of private finance flowing toward climate adaptation and resilience—globally and locally—is less than what is needed. To this point, a national Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator (formerly National Climate Bank) proposal was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives twice in 2020, with the Senate likely to take-up the bill early in 2021; some form of the Accelerator is expected to be in the Biden Administration’s infrastructure stimulus. Connecticut has an opportunity to be positioned to capitalize on this legislative initiative and show that it is the right place to scale up new climate-responsive infrastructure investment while putting thousands back to work preparing and protecting our communities from the impacts of climate change.
Preparing for federal climate resilience investment
The federal government is telling us they want to go big on funding for climate resilience. A pillar of the Biden Administration is ‘build back better’ with sustainable and resilient infrastructure investments. Under the previous administration the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched the Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities (BRIC) grant program utilizing funds authorized by the bipartisan Disaster Recovery and Reform Act of 2018. Two-years-ago this program’s predecessor topped out at just $25 million per year nationally for disaster mitigation grants. In FY20, the new BRIC program offered 25 times that amount with $500 million available in grants. Recently it was reported that up to $3.7 billion could become available for grants in the next grant cycle. States now have a significant source of annual federal funding for resilience projects, but each of these grants requires a 25% non-federal cost share and significant design and feasibility work. The Governor’s bill sets Connecticut up to be ready for this federal investment with more options for municipalities to meet the planning and non-federal cost share needs and creating the environmental infrastructure bank to open the door to financing.
Governor Lamont’s Solution
Governor Lamont reconstituted the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in 2019 to develop a list of action items to make Connecticut more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The Governor is proposing four lynchpin proposals, as recommended by the GC3 and its 230+ Working Group members. The proposals would expand the tools municipalities have to fund and finance climate adaptation and resilience projects through:
Authorizing the creation of municipal stormwater authorities statewide. The proposal expands the current pilot program for municipal stormwater authorities, giving all municipalities the ability to create such an authority. In turn, this body may address reductions in stormwater pollution and flooding, help municipalities afford green infrastructure and resiliency investments, and leverage additional state and federal funding sources.
Enabling a local-option buyer’s conveyance fee. The proposal authorizes municipalities to adopt a buyer’s real estate conveyance fee. This dedicated fee could be used by municipalities to fund municipal land conservation, stewardship, climate mitigation, resilience and adaptation strategies, and other community environmental projects. The legislation is structured to ensure that the program does not undermine the development of affordable housing in the participating municipalities.
Adding floor prevention and climate resilience to the purview of municipal flood and erosion control boards. Another resiliency tool for municipalities is to authorize municipal flood and erosion control boards to undertake a wider range of climate resilience activities, including utilizing nature-based solutions, restoring natural floodplains, and reserving open space for future migration of wetlands. The boards would be renamed “flood prevention, climate resilience, and erosion control boards” to reflect this expanded scope. The bill clarifies that the boards may use municipal Climate Change and Coastal Resiliency Reserve Funds as well as state, federal or private dollars to build, operate, and maintain any projects they undertake. The bill directs the boards to consider hazard mitigation and resilience plans as well as to prioritize vulnerable communities and to consult with the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA). It also expands the existing authority of municipalities to establish districts to implement flood and erosion control systems to now use that authority to implement flood prevention, climate resilience and erosion control systems.
Expanding the Green Bank. Under this proposal, the Green Bank would simply be allowed to invest—if it sees actionable opportunities—in water, waste and recycling, climate adaptation and resilience, agriculture, land conservation, parks and recreation, and environmental markets like with carbon offsets, and it would be allowed to utilize its bonding authority, as well as seek federal funding, to raise capital to invest in and stimulate more private investment in such projects in Connecticut.