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Mitigate and Adapt: Fortifying Infrastructure, Regulating Lingering Chemicals

Forecast ’24: In 2024, legislatures will continue efforts to prepare for natural disasters, regulate “forever chemicals” and protect wetlands.

By NCSL Staff  |  November 28, 2023

In next year’s legislative sessions, expect legislatures to reduce the risks of natural disasters, which have become increasingly frequent and costly; regulate per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, the “forever chemicals” used in many household and industrial items that don’t break down in the environment; and protect wetlands, which states have more authority to regulate after a recent Supreme Court decision.

NCSL Forecast ’24

This special report from State Legislatures News covers the topics NCSL’s policy experts anticipate will occupy state lawmakers’ time in 2024 legislative sessions. Read the full report here.

Hot Topic: Reducing Disaster Risks, Boosting Resilience

With each passing year, more mega-disasters are impacting states. As of September, there have been 23 confirmed billion-dollar disasters nationwide, including unprecedented wildfires in Hawaii and flooding in Vermont. As costs escalate, policymakers put greater emphasis on reducing the risks associated with these incidents. Through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, states have received historic funding for a broad range of mitigation strategies and are exploring other innovative financing mechanics as well.

ACTION: States are beefing up their critical infrastructure with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency’s STORM (Safeguarding Tomorrow Through Ongoing Risk Mitigation) fund provides grants states can use to pay for hazard mitigation. Many states are also streamlining their mitigation efforts by establishing a resilience office, officer, working group, commission or task force. In 2023, at least 167 bills were introduced in 36 states, and key initiatives were passed in Louisiana (HB 526), creating a chief resilience officer in the governor’s office, and in Washington (HB 1728), which created a statewide resiliency program.

Hot Topic: Regulating PFAS

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances—chemicals collectively known as PFAS—are used in a wide range of products and are extremely persistent in the environment. They are often found in soil and water supplies near sites where they are manufactured, used or discarded. Given the negative health outcomes associated with these chemicals, state legislatures and the federal government are regulating their use and remediating contaminated areas.

ACTION: States have restricted the use of firefighting foam containing PFAS; regulated PFAS in drinking water, food packaging, textiles and consumer products; and allocated funds for testing, cleanup and remediation, among other measures. Some states have even banned the use of PFAS outright, with some exceptions for unavoidable circumstances.

Trending: Teaming Up to Fight Contamination

Expect policymakers to continue tackling PFAS through legislation, agency rulemaking and legal action. With $10 billion from the infrastructure law of 2021 dedicated to addressing PFAS and other contaminants, states have federal support to mitigate the contaminants in their drinking water. However, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed maximum contaminant levels are more stringent than any current state requirements and are likely to impact intervention costs should they go into effect.

Hot Topic: Protecting Wetlands and Water Resources

According to the EPA, wetlands currently cover 5.5% of land in the 48 contiguous states and can play a role in maintaining water quality, reducing flood risk, controlling shoreline erosion and supporting commercial fishing and recreation. A 2023 Supreme Court ruling significantly narrowed the federal government’s authority over wetlands under the Clean Water Act, giving states and private landowners additional rights.

ACTION: Expect lawmakers to consider legislation to regulate wetland degradation and to protect or redesignate wetlands. States will also be considering measures related to water resources, as the effects of drought continue across much of the U.S.

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