Obama unveils measures to help communities adapt to climate change

WASHINGTON Wed Jul 16, 2014 3:53pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia July 15, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia July 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced new measures to make the country's infrastructure stronger and more resilient, to help states and communities adapt to climate change.

"Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st-century economy," Obama said during a meeting with state, local and tribal officials to discuss global warming.

"That means that we should see this as an opportunity to do what we should be doing anyway, and that’s modernizing our infrastructure, modernizing our roads, modernizing our bridges, power grids, our transit systems, and making sure that they’re more resilient."

The announcement builds on the administration’s multi-pronged Climate Action Plan, first released last year as a way for the United States to take steps to reduce carbon emissions domestically, take international leadership to persuade other countries to fight climate change and prepare the country to adapt to global warming's effects on local communities.

In May, the White House released a report on how a changing climate has touched individuals in every corner of the country, from oyster growers in Washington state to maple syrup producers in Vermont, building the case for the need for a comprehensive climate strategy.

The National Climate Assessment detailed how some coastal regions could face bigger storm surges and more flooding, while arid areas such as the southwestern United States may have to confront more wildfires and severe water shortages.

The initiatives announced Wednesday involve a number of federal agencies, such as the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some focus on providing federal resources to support climate preparedness, such as investing $236 million from the USDA in eight states to support smart-grid technologies to boost rural electric systems and a $10 million interagency partnership to provide American Indian tribes with data and information to prepare for climate impacts.

To help communities around the country rebuild after natural disasters, FEMA will launch a pilot program with several projects by the end of August to “ensure that all resources are brought to bear through FEMA’s Mitigation and Recovery programs to minimize the impact of future disasters,” the administration said in a statement.

The administration will also offer $1.5 million in competitive funding to help states and tribes make improvements to their coastal management programs.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason)

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