Climate Change Study Warns of Impacts to Infrastructure

A recent study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute warns the threat of climate change could have “devastating impacts” on transportation and infrastructure systems across the Midwest, but it also pointed to Michigan as one of several states in the region working in the right direction.

Specifically, it said Minnesota and Michigan lead the Midwest in “adequately preparing its systems for the effects of climate change, evident by their adoption of Climate Action and Adoption Plans.” However, a report by Michigan Radio confirmed that plan, in place during the Granholm administration, has since completed its work and is no longer active.

Still, Michigan’s state Department of Transportation – as well as that of several other states – has also pursued an asset management program to address climate change and assess its vulnerabilities, the report showed.

Governor Rick Snyder’s interest in energy policy has led to his creation of the Michigan Agency on Energy that primarily has been working to implement and enforce the state’s recent energy law overhaul. But when it comes to addressing climate change, that conversation has been raised less.

Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton Township) and other Democrats have introduced HB 4982 that would, among other things, create an environmental literacy task force to develop an environmental literacy model curriculum. One of the first goals of the task, according to the legislation, would be preparing students for “understanding and addressing environmental challenges of this state and the United States, including the relationship of the environment to national security, energy sources, climate change, health risks, and natural disasters.”

The bill has been sitting in the House Committee on Education Reform, led by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township), who was recently appointed by President Donald Trump to a position with the U.S. Department of Education. The vice-chair of the state committee is Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield).

House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) has also introduced a resolution in June to call on Snyder to join a multi-state climate alliance observing the Paris climate accord the president has withdrawn from. Doing so means the United States have not agreed to certain standards to combat global climate change.

“From automotive companies that have led the way in electric cars and low-emission vehicles to innovative renewable fuel companies, Michigan has emerged as an engine that can drive the world forward in addressing climate change,” Singh said in a statement at the time. “Our citizens cannot afford for the state to give up its reputation as a leader of innovation, which is why we must maintain the tenets of the Paris accord, no matter what President Trump has decided to do.”

And there is no questioning the Midwest’s climate is in the midst of ongoing change, the study concluded. Specifically, it noted a growth in the region’s average air temperature by 4.5 degrees since the 1980s; growing electricity outages; a 27 percent increase in the number of “very heavy precipitations days” since the 1950s; a steady reduction in ice coverage on the Great Lakes, and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles.

“Rising temperatures and the likelihood of more storms and flooding reduce the lifespan of roads and bridges, could cause railways to buckle, and threaten above-ground energy facilities and transmission lines,” study author Mary Craighead said. “Without critical maintenance and modernization of these systems, everything from freight and commuter routes to our region’s overall economic value as a net distributor of electricity could be jeopardized.”

National infrastructure needs are expected to top $2 trillion by 2025, the study indicated, but elected officials at all levels of government should incorporate climate-related considerations into both public policy and future project planning, Craighead said.

The study said the Midwest itself is home to more than 61 million people and a transportation network that supports $2.6 trillion in regional gross domestic product.

As such, transportation projects can and should account for climate change through the rainfall and heat standards used in the design process, the study suggested. New public infrastructure and private developments also should be limited or prohibited in unsafe areas that have already experienced weather-related damage, it said.

“No one policy or action alone will halt the harmful effects of climate change. While some Midwestern states have taken actions to address negative impacts on infrastructure systems, more needs to be done,” the study said. “As infrastructure investments continue to be debated, climate change and its impact on these systems must also be considered.”

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson