Speed up climate resiliency spending now to avoid steep costs later

Ten years after Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York City, it stands as an example not only of the vulnerability of our public and private infrastructure to what is an ever more destructive climate, but our failure to have a swift and effective government response to looming crises.

That much has been made clear in Comptroller Brad Lander’s recent report on resiliency spending in the post-Sandy era, which found that $4 billion of the federal government’s $15 billion in grants to shore up our defenses against similar catastrophes remains unspent. That’s atop hundreds of millions more in city capital spending.


This is partly a practical failure and partly a conceptual one. On the former front, the capital project process as a whole is a bureaucratic morass of pointless pitfalls and mounting costs, one that the Adams administration should double down on plans to streamline. The irony is thick when environmental reviews endlessly delay environmental necessities.

It’s also not clear why a mess of dozens of separate agencies and other public entities are individually responsible for enacting resiliency projects when climate impact is a holistic, widespread calamity that requires top-down coordination. Rather, it makes sense for the overview of initiatives as disparate as elevating roads and weather-proofing hospitals to be somewhat centralized.

On the conceptual front, it’s the wrong framing to be thinking of all this as a response to a storm that happened 10 years ago. That was a wake-up call, but this is about preparing for what’s coming — rising seas and future torrents of rain — not being content with fixing Sandy’s damage.

It doesn’t make sense, for example, to require onerous proof that certain infrastructure was damaged in order to unlock funds for climate mitigation. Even undamaged infrastructure should be upgraded, and the funding should be targeted more along the lines of where climate models and an assessment of risk points to there being a particular need. Without aggressive action, the costs will be far worse later on, both monetarily and in the impact on New Yorkers’ lives.

— New York Daily News Editorial Board

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