Media reports this week indicate that the Trump administration is considering substantial funding cuts in federal environmental and natural resource programs. Reportedly, these and other budget cuts are intended to offset increases in funding for national security. While all government functions should be scrutinized for waste and inefficiency, deep cuts in environmental programs that protect the health of our families, communities and businesses would undermine the administration’s goal of enhancing our nation’s security. We all rely on healthy lands and waters for jobs, food, security and prosperity.
There is a better way.
Conserving our nation’s natural resources is not a luxury to be cut during difficult times. It is a cost-effective investment that generates impressive returns to all Americans.
Across our country, healthy soils support 17 million agricultural jobs—about 9.3 percent of total U.S. employment. Healthy forests provide 3 million jobs and healthy fisheries support nearly 1.8 million more. And the economic benefits of nature extend far beyond direct employment. Healthy ecosystems provide vital public services, including water supply, flood protection, air and water quality, and more. As we approach the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, for example, we should remember that intact coastal wetlands shielded communities and prevented $625 million in flood damages.
Rather than cutting programs to conserve America’s natural resources, we should be looking for ways to invest in nature to provide cost-effective solutions to some of our biggest national challenges. Congress and the Trump administration will have significant opportunities to do this in the months ahead.
Leaders of both parties have identified infrastructure improvements as a “must” for Congressional action. Beyond the obvious need to repair and upgrade crumbling roads, bridges, dams and other built infrastructure, we can invest in proven “natural infrastructure” solutions, like restoring reefs and wetlands to shield coastal communities from storms, while also providing clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and jobs and income through commercial and recreational fishing. The Nature Conservancy’s work along the Alabama coast to restore oyster reefs, for example, reduced wave heights by fifty percent—meaning lower risks to coastal communities from extreme storms. We are working with government agencies and leading engineering, industrial, and insurance firms to deploy this natural infrastructure solution in other vulnerable coastal communities across the country.
Nature-based solutions also help our nation’s cities solve pressing problems with aging and inadequate infrastructure. Cities like Philadelphia, Washington, DC and Detroit are reducing the need for costly upgrades to their stormwater and sewer systems by planting trees, creating more open space, and installing other innovative forms of “green infrastructure” to absorb stormwater. Rapidly growing cities like Phoenix and Santa Fe are ensuring sustainable water supplies in an increasingly arid environment by restoring forests and investing in better agricultural practices upstream to deliver more water downstream. These nature-based solutions provide benefits beyond water—they help clean the air, improve public health, and provide an enhanced quality of life in our nation’s cities and surrounding regions. Congress and the Trump administration should prioritize proven and cost-effective natural infrastructure solutions as they consider public funding and private sector incentives for infrastructure improvements.