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US House passes package of bills to bolster coastal resilience

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of bills Dec. 10 aimed at helping coastal and Great Lakes communities and their economies remain resilient in the face of growing climate change-related impacts such as sea-level rise, extreme weather events and storm surge.

The package of 10 bipartisan coastal resilience bills, which the House passed under the umbrella of the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act, H.R. 729, with a vote of 262-151, now heads to the U.S. Senate where its future remains unclear.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in September that global warming is wreaking havoc on the health of the world's ocean, with far-reaching implications for coastal, island and high-elevation communities in particular. Moreover, those climate change impacts are raising questions about the long-term creditworthiness of coastal communities to both raise funds for necessary projects and to pay them off.

"The climate crisis is a clear and present danger to the 39 million Americans who live near our coasts," House Natural Resource Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said in a Dec. 10 statement. "Passing today's bill is a necessary step in reversing the impacts we're seeing in our oceans and along our shorelines."

The combined bill would create or expand upon federal grants and funding options available to communities in the areas of monitoring, research and adaptation, and would authorize community programs that preserve fish habitats and conduct research on Great Lakes fisheries management. Most of the grants and programs would be overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the more noteworthy measures in the package would establish a $50 million per year grant program for fiscal years 2020 through 2025 to help communities develop climate-resilient living shoreline projects such as marshes and wetlands to minimize or prevent shoreline erosion. The package would also create a Climate Change Adaptation Preparedness and Response Program to help coastal states create and implement adaptation plans and to provide grants for related adaptation projects.

In addition, the NOAA would create a working waterfront grant program to encourage the development of infrastructure and waterways that provide access to coastal waters for people in commercial and recreational fishing businesses, boat building, aquaculture or other water-dependent activities.

The combined bill also would amend the Coastal Zone Management Act to allow Washington, D.C., to develop and implement a coastal zone management program and be eligible for CZMA grant funding.

Another measure would create a competitive grant program specifically for American Indian tribes to protect, restore and preserve areas of the coastal zone that hold important ecological, cultural, historical or sacred significance to those tribes.