How will green infrastructure fare in a Trump Administration? That’s the question on my mind after last Tuesday’s election. Green stormwater infrastructure, urban forests, pollinator and wildlife habitat initiatives, and research into the place-based, health and environmental services of the managed urban landscape. The federal government plays a role in all of it through policy, regulation and direct financial support of programs and institutions.
With an unfocussed policy agenda, an indifferent attitude to science and pledges to invest big in our failing infrastructure, there’s no clear indication of exactly where a Trump administration may fall. What follows are a few early thoughts presented with no detail.
Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) has been driven by government policy and mandate — at the core is the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Cities across the nation have green infrastructure included in consent decrees signed with EPA to settle CWA violations caused by things like combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Will EPA begin to pull back on mandated GSI requirements to cities in their settlements? EPA mandates have driven installation of thousands of BMPs like rain gardens/bioswales, green roofs, permeable pavement, urban forests and numerous others in cities across the U.S.
Then separately there’s the issue of the Obama Administration’s expansion of Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) by EPA rule, which significantly expands the CWA’s reach. Implementation is currently on hold nationwide by court order.
And the Chesapeake Bay Rules that came before WOTUS expansion places Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) on allowable discharges to the Chesapeake Bay from the entire multistate watershed. The Chesapeake Rules are meant to serve as a national model for other large watersheds — for instance, like the Mississippi. LID is how many jurisdictions all over the country deal with TMDLs. LID has also driven installation of thousands of GSI BMPs with lots of plants.
To say groups (agriculture especially) are unhappy about EPA’s regulation by administrative action is an understatement.
The federal push for GSI has created a tremendous number of jobs, companies and industries established or expanded to deal with the rules. Philadelphia’s push into GSI is estimated in its first five years to already have an economic impact of about $60 million and 430 local jobs. Properties proximate to the 496 green stormwater infrastructure projects already installed are estimated to have risen 10% in value according to “The Economic Impact of Green City, Clean Waters: The First Five Years” by Econsult Solutions submitted to Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Partners initiative.
Pollinator habitat is another form of green infrastructure that’s received a federal push. Section 1415 of the FAST Act passed nearly a year ago includes provisions to restore pollinator habitat along roadsides. It’s been a clear signal to states that managing highway rights of way for pollinators is a national priority. The bill’s language encourages “development of habitat and forage for Monarch butterflies, other native pollinators and honey bees through plantings of native forbs and grasses.” Most importantly, states may use federal highway funds to provide pollinator habitat, so the effort is financially hardwired. Pollinator habitat has also been pushed by other agencies, including the General Service Administration (GSA), the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in policy, with grants for habitat installation and through research support.
The Obama Administration put performance-based metrics and sustainability at the core of GSA’s guidelines “Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service.” The federal government houses 1.1 million federal workers and manages 377 million sq. ft. spread through more than 8,700 assets—that’s a lot of buildings and grounds. How GSA designs, builds, maintains and repairs federal assets influences the private sector. Recently, GSA adopted the Sustainable Sites Initiative for GSA’s capital construction program in their 2016 Guidelines.
There’s also the research and education piece that’s critical to developing science upon which to base actions and the pipeline of trained horticulturists, engineers, landscape architects, landscape designers, urban planners, city managers, water quality regulators and dozens more professionals that have been critical to moving the concepts of green infrastructure forward. Federal research dollars and other budget lines to public universities and other institutions provide critical support.
Green infrastructure is, after all, infrastructure. Being flexible in how green infrastructure is presented and making the case for community and economic good in hard dollars and cents has always been important to garnering broad political and community support. Presenting the economic case will only become more important moving forward.
Governmentally influenced markets are just one aspect of functional plant demand for green infrastructure. No matter who’s president, consumer demand drives retail markets and influences or shapes many commercial markets. Pollinator habitat, monarch gardening, native plants, drought-sensitive landscapes, permaculture and home food production are among the gardening and landscape trends that are likely to keep rolling. You can change political leadership, but you can’t change demographics.
These thoughts are early rambling. Stay tuned — it’s going to be a ride for the history books.
Here’s what some others are saying: What a Trump Win Means For the Global Climate Fight by David Victor for Yale Environment 360; Donald Trump’s U.S. election win stuns scientists–Republicans sweep White House and U.S. Congress, with uncertain implications for research by Jeff Tollefson, Lauren Morello and Sara Reardonon on Nature News; and 14 Obama regs Trump could undo by Tim Devaney, Peter Schroeder and Timothy Cama for The Hill.
November 15, 2016 NewTerrain.