OAKLAND, Calif. (August 25, 2016)—The California Legislature today passed Assembly Bill 2800 (Quirk, D-Hayward), a bill requiring the creation of a climate-safe infrastructure working group. If signed into law by Gov. Brown, it would help address a dangerous disconnect between engineering and climate science that threatens the safety and benefits of costly public infrastructure projects. The Senate approved the bill on August 22 in a 32-6 bipartisan vote, and the Assembly gave final approval today.
California spends billions of taxpayer dollars on new and existing infrastructure, but the infrastructure plans and design aren’t always informed by the best available climate science. The bill, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), would bring together state professional engineers, architects and climate scientists to develop recommendations for best practices to integrate the effects of climate change into state infrastructure design and construction. Engineers have traditionally relied upon historical data and trends, but climate scientists say the past is no longer a good predictor of the future.
“Just as we know that seismic safety standards are critical to public safety when a disastrous earthquake strikes, the stakes are also high if we don’t design infrastructure to withstand the effects of climate change,” said Jamesine Rogers Gibson, UCS western states senior climate analyst. “Engineers, architects and climate scientists need to engage in a nuts-and-bolts conversation about how to better integrate our changing climate into design and engineering solutions. The bill would create a forum for this badly needed conversation.”
Even though California is at the cutting edge of producing climate data and tools, engineers don’t always have the information they need—or in a form they can readily use—to help them plan for a range of climate futures. It is critical that costly public infrastructure projects that are built to last for many decades—such as roads, bridges, dams, reservoirs and buildings—remain safe and reliable as climate change results in higher temperatures, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, and accelerated sea level rise, according to UCS.
California already is making important strides in addressing climate resilience, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s Executive Order B-30-15, which requires state agencies to factor climate change into their planning and investment decisions; AB 1482 (Gordon), which requires the Natural Resource Agency to report on the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change by sector and prepare a “Safeguarding California” implementation plan; and SB 246 (Wieckowski), which requires the Office of Planning and Research to coordinate regional and local efforts with state climate adaptation strategies. However, none of these efforts specifically addresses the disconnect between climate science and engineering design and construction.
“Infrastructure is costly to build, and therefore we need it to last,” said Jason Barbose, UCS western states policy manager. “This bill is a common-sense step to preparing state engineers to design our state’s infrastructure so that it can be safe and resilient in the face of a changing climate. We hope Governor Brown will sign the legislation to help bridge the disconnect between climate science and engineering design.”