By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK - The U.S. government's oceans and waterways agency will provide $30 million to improve coastal resilience, officials said, aiming to reduce the impacts of worsening storms, flooding and rising seas in nearly half of U.S. states.
Grants through the program are designed to restore or expand coastal wetlands, dunes, reefs, mangroves and barrier islands that are key to coastal protection, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in an announcement.
Coastlines worldwide are being damaged or threatened by more extreme and destructive weather, higher temperatures and rising seas that scientists attribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, said a government report late last year that cited the impact on health, infrastructure and industry, as well as water and ocean resources, sometimes called the "blue economy."
"The Blue Economy drives our nation's prosperity and growth, and yet our coastal areas remain vulnerable to extreme events like hurricanes and flooding," said Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, in a statement.
President Donald Trump, who has previously dismissed climate change as a hoax, recently notified the United Nations that the United States will leave the Paris climate accord, under which world nations agreed to cut emissions to slow warming.
The NOAA funding, announced Monday, consists of 44 grants for projects such as rebuilding the shoreline and restoring marshland in the southern state of Louisiana.
One funded project will build up wetlands along a Lake Pontchartrain levee adjacent to New Orleans, said John Lopez, director of the coast and community program for Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a local non-profit group.
Wetlands act as buffers, reducing the energy and surges of powerful storms such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the area in 2005.
"The levees can protect communities, but we need our wetlands to protect our levees," Lopez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Grants will go to 23 U.S. states, NOAA said.
Partners in the grants, part of the National Coastal Resilience Fund, are the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), created by Congress to provide conservation grants, along with energy giant Shell Oil Company and TransRe, a global reinsurance company.
NOAA did not disclose how much money was being provided by the private concerns.
A Shell spokeswoman said the company finances seven grants with the NFWF, each for several hundred thousand dollars. She did not provide further specifics.