Capps reintroduces two bills

Better planning for how the coastline might be impacted by climate change, as well as protecting water systems from a warming environment, are goals in bills reintroduced into Congress by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

On Feb. 15, congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, introduced “The Coastal States Climate Change Planning Act” and the “Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act of 2013,” both of which in part aim to delegate funds for state and local agencies to adapt to global climate change.

Though both bills have been introduced into previous congresses and failed to pass committee, Capps spokesperson Ashley Schapitl said the congresswoman will continue to push until she sees the changes made.

“The need to address climate change and plan for its effect has not diminished since the Congresswoman first introduced the bill, it’s only increased,” Schapitl said. “So the Congresswoman is going to keep working to pass the bill.”

Planning on the coast

The Climate Change Planning Act would establish a program to help coastal states create and implement climate change preparedness plans so they are more able to tackle large-scale environmental disasters, she said.

In this program, states could apply to the Secretary of Commerce for grants to identify and prevent a broad range of potential environmental threats. These include hurricane or tsunami-like storms, loss of coastline due to erosion, fluctuating water levels and native species endangerment, among other threats.

“We have seen the effects of climate change in a dramatic way … especially along the coastal regions,” Capps said. “Take an extreme weather event like Hurricane Sandy… we see more of an impact on these coastal states.’”

Impacts such as these already threaten San Luis Obispo County, and Pismo Beach in particular, she said, where major infrastructure runs along cliff edges facing rapid erosion. An extreme weather event could cause a lot of damage there, she said.

“It’s a beautiful area, right on the cliffs, but it’s at risk,” she said.

The California Coastal Commission recognized this risk at its January meeting, when it approved a proposal to construct a seawall along a portion of the Pismo Beach cliffs following worries that a strong storm could cause part of the cliff to damage the St. Andrew’s sewage lift station near Memory Park. CQed

The project will cost approximately $2.6 million, according to commission reports.

Capps said the act, if passed, would help fund more projects such as this in the future, though the bill does not have a set amount of money that could be allocated to participating states as of yet.

“It’s a huge task for communities to take on their own,” Capps said. “And I think it should be a federal issue to give help to these communities.”

Capps is supported by fellow representative Sam Farr, as well as six other co-sponsors to the bill, all Democrats.

“I have been a longtime co-sponsor of this legislation because of the growing threat created by climate change,” Farr said. “At risk are the health, environment and economy of our coastal communities. This bill by the congresswoman would allow us to finally develop a plan to address the unique challenges we are facing.”

Some critics say this bill will do more to help states other than California, though, which already has an existing climate change adaptation and planning program organized by the Coastal Commission.

“You see legislation like this at a national level, and my first reaction is it’s already there in California,” Cal Poly city and regional planning professor Michael Boswell said.

Boswell specializes in climate action planning, and has done work throughout the state to address climate adaptation plans, which became prominent in California with the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. That act focused more on reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the state, than coastal climate change impacts, however.  

Boswell said the nationwide discussion is still being echoed in San Luis Obispo County as well.

“There’s certainly been a lot of activity analyzing climate change in the area over the past few years,” Boswell said, “as well as a focus on adaptation and planning in the event of climate change.”

Improving infrastructure

The second of Capps’ proposed bills, the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act of 2011 addresses climate change impacts in a different way.

The act, which Capps previously introduced in 2011, would distribute grants to water suppliers to help them improve existing drinking water and wastewater systems, as well as research improved methods of water distribution and handling with an eye toward sustainability, she said.

This would give those suppliers incentives to update failing water systems, something that is desperately needed in California, Capps said.

The American Society of Civil Engineers 2009 Infrastructure Report Card (the updated version is due out next month) gave the U.S. a D grade in water infrastructure. California fell just above that, with a C grade in water infrastructure.

The study suggested several key solutions, one of which is promoting sustainability and resilience (or the ability to withstand a large amount of damage and continue to function) – which is exactly what Capp’s bill calls for. The other solutions call for increased federal leadership in maintaining and improving infrastructure, developing a national vision for the country’s infrastructure and increasing investments to improving infrastructure.

These localized problems are often largely ignored on the national level, Capps said, but bills such as this would go a long way to bridging the