BOSTON Gov. Deval Patrick took the wraps off a $50 million plan Tuesday that he says will help prepare Massachusetts for the challenges posed by climate change on public health, energy, transportation and basic infrastructure.
The initiatives, unveiled by the governor at the New England Aquarium, include a $40 million grant program by the Department of Energy Resources to help cities and towns to shore up protections around energy services.
Another $10 million will be spent on what Patrick called critical coastal infrastructure and dam repair. That includes $1 million in municipal grants to reduce or eliminate risk associated with coastal storms and sea level rise and another $1 million for “green infrastructure” projects like beach and dune enhancement and salt marsh retention.
“The question is not whether we need to act. We’re past that,” Patrick said. “The world’s climate is changing and human activity is contributing to that change. Massachusetts needs to be ready.”
Patrick said the proposal also requires the Department of Public Utilities to work with utilities to determine ways “to accelerate storm hardening and deploy micro-grids and resiliency projects” to assure the transmission and distribution of energy.
State Energy Secretary Rick Sullivan said recent storms and power outages “serve as a reminder that it is critical we secure our energy grid to endure more extreme weather patterns.”
Transportation is another focus of the plan, according to Patrick, who was joined at the news conference by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.
The proposal calls on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to conduct a “statewide vulnerability assessment” for all of its facilities and adopt climate adaptation plans by 2015.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation, which operates a number of historic parkways, will conduct a separate assessment to see which of its roadways are vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise.
Patrick said his plan will also help the state prepare for the effects of climate change on health, including the infrastructure needed to protect drinking water and guard against the possible spread of disease.
The plan also calls for the appointment of a state climatologist and a single online “portal” for state resources on climate preparedness.
All but about $2 million of the plan will be paid with existing funds, officials said.
The $40 million municipal grant program will be covered by payments into a fund by electric retail suppliers who have insufficient renewable or alternative energy certificates to meet their obligations under the state’ renewable energy initiative.
The $2 million not covered by existing funds will be included in Patrick’s budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year.
Administration officials say Massachusetts is already feeling the effects of climate change, including five major storms since 2010, a significant rise in Eastern Equine Encephalitis in mosquitoes that led to aerial spraying in 2012, and the 2013 closure of oyster bed for the first time in state history because of vibrio parahaemolyticus.
Patrick said the overall goal of the proposal is to acknowledge that climate change is already occurring.
“We’re taking this out of emergency response and putting it into how we plan for the future,” he said.