Marco Rubio Gets Support for Proposals to Help Infrastructure Deal With Severe Weather, Restoring Reefs

This week, the U.S. Senate Climate Solutions threw its support behind U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s, R-Fla., “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” and “Built to Last Act.”

Rubio, who is a member of the caucus, weighed in on the support on Monday.

“I joined the bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus to advance commonsense solutions to the most pressing climate issues facing Florida and our country,” Rubio said. “These bills would make communities in Florida more resilient to climate impacts and improve quality of life for Floridians. It’s time for Congress to act on these bills and I am hopeful they will soon become law.”

For the past two years, Rubio and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., have been working on “Built to Last Act.”

The bill would have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “identify a consistent, federal set of best available forward-looking metrological information.” The bill would also have the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) “make that information available to standards-developing organizations, with advice and technical assistance to help ensure organizations are able to incorporate this information into standards, building codes and voluntary certifications.”

“I am proud to partner with Senator Baldwin, a fellow member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, in this bipartisan effort to mitigate the challenges and impacts of a changing climate and empower states to plan appropriately,” Rubio said last year. “Florida’s public and private building standards are already among the most stringent in the nation, including the requirement to withstand major hurricanes. The Built to Last Act would bolster our preparedness by improving the Federal Government’s capacity to share projections of weather-related risks to our communities and provide guidance for building codes, ensuring that the infrastructure we build in the future is more resilient to weather impacts.”

“As extreme weather and costly damages become more and more frequent it’s important we equip states and local communities with what they need to build stronger and more climate-reliant infrastructure,” Baldwin said. “Our bipartisan legislation will help make sure our infrastructure is built to last and save taxpayer dollars.”

The senators pointed to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which found that “the estimated annual economic losses from damage caused by hurricanes and storm-related flooding is $54 billion to households, businesses, and government.”

When they first introduced the proposal, the senators insisted their proposal would help “ensure federal, state, local and private buildings, roads, and other infrastructure are more resilient to extreme weather events by equipping standards-developing organizations that issue building codes and other standards with the best available information on weather-related risks, including floods, hurricanes and wildfires.”

The bill has the support of R Street, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Planning Association, Enterprise Community Partners and National Ready Mix Concrete Association and other groups.

Rubio and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., have been working on the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act,” a proposal to update and reauthorize the “Coral Reef Conservation Act,” which expired 15 years ago, before a key subcommittee.

Back in the summer of 2019, Rubio, Soto and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., joined with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hi., U.S. Sen. Mazi Hirono, D-Hi., and U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, R-PR. to bring out the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” to reauthorize the old law. Other backers included U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla.

Rubio was the chief sponsor in the Senate while Soto introduced it in the House and the two men reintroduced the proposal at the start of 2021. While the U.S. Senate passed the bill at the end of 2020 the measure did not gain much traction in the U.S. House and failed to cross the finish line.

“The Coral Reef Conservation Act, which expired more than 15 years ago, was designed to promote the conservation of our nation’s reefs. In recent years, the decline in the nation’s coral reefs has only become more severe. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act directs federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems, while incentivizing increased state and local investment in coral reef management capacity. The bill encourages innovative public-private Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among agencies, research centers, and community stakeholders; codifies and updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force; ensures that our national coral strategy is informed by a robust local stakeholder engagement process; and allows for emergency grants for coral disasters, among other measures,” Rubio’s office noted.

“I saw the devastated condition of our coral reefs firsthand when touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and I promised a comprehensive response,” Rubio said at the start of last year.“This important bipartisan bill will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical habitats. I thank my Senate colleagues for passing my bill last Congress, and I am hopeful that both the House and Senate can quickly approve this legislation so it can become law.”

Many of the same members of Congress that backed the bill before continue to support it, including in the Florida delegation.

“During my time as governor of Florida, we worked to increase investments in our environment by $1 billion to preserve and protect our natural resources,” Scott said. “I’m proud to join Senators Rubio, Hirono and Schatz to reintroduce the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act, which will build on our efforts and help restore and protect our coral reef ecosystems. I will continue working to make sure future generations can enjoy all that Florida has to offer.”

“Coral reefs play a critical role in protecting coastal communities from hurricanes and devastating flooding,” said Mast. “Restoring and conserving these reefs will also promote healthier ecosystems, protect aquatic habitats and support our marine life. That’s what this bill is all about.”

When first introduced, the proposal garnered the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders.

“Florida depends on our coral reefs. Not only are they essential to the health of our marine ecosystem, they are vital to coastal resiliency, stand as the first line of defense against storm surge in Southeast Florida and play a key role in our tourism economy,” said DeSantis in support of the 2019 push. “I applaud Senator Rubio’s advocacy for this important resource and look forward to the opportunity this support would provide to help preserve, sustain and restore the condition of Florida’s coral reefs.”

Rubio’s bill is before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Soto’s bill is before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee which sent it to the U.S. House Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee.

At the start of 2020, Rubio joined the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. The caucus is led by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and “promotes bipartisan discussion about climate policy and advocates for Congress to play a central role in addressing the challenge.”

Kevin Derby
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