By David Shepardson and Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fatal floods in New York and New Jersey prompted Democractic lawmakers and experts to intensify calls on Thursday for U.S. infrastructure spending, including passage of a $1.2 trillion bill before Congress.
With the weather impact of climate change worsening, the infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and awaiting House of Representatives approval includes $47 billion for climate resilience measures. These are intended to help communities withstand more severe storms, droughts, floods, fires, heat waves and sea level rise, Democrats said.
"Global warming is upon us and it's going to get worse and worse," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York at a press conference. "That's why it is so imperative to pass" the $1.2 trillion infrastructure and a separate $3.5 trillion spending bill, priority initatives for President Joe Biden.
Torrential rains from Ida, a tropical storm that was previously a hurricane, deluged the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut on Wednesday and Thursday. Flooding killed at least 14 people, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey.
The infrastructure bill includes funding for flood mitigation grants, coastal resilience projects and mapping and data to improve flood protection.
"We don't just build infrastructure but we build resilient infrastructure so when these floods or fires or anything else occurs they are much more resistant," Schumer said.
Republicans have highlighted concerns that the spending would cause federal debt to balloon. The infrastructure bill split the Republican caucus in the Senate, with 19 voting for it while 30 opposed the measure.
But even more money might be needed, according to Joel Scata of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Given the context of climate change, things are going to become very expensive," Scata said.
He said the infrastructure bill's funding for climate impact, notably flooding, is the largest in modern U.S. history.
Extreme weather has exposed infrastructure weaknesses thoughout the country. When Ida came ashore as a hurricane in Louisiana this week, it knocked out power to much of the state, and hundreds of thousands may be without electricity for a month. In February, a Texas cold snap triggered widespread blackouts that killed at least 32.
Representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, said Ida was "a devastating reminder that we must invest in climate-resilient infrastructure to save lives."
Chris Brown, a former Republican congressional staffer who runs natural disaster advocacy group SmarterSafer, said Congress could face pressure to approve further funding for disaster relief.
"We've got to start thinking of preparing for the storm and mitigating before it hits," said Brown, "These are not 500-year events anymore. These are regularly ocurring events."
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Jason Lange; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)