Michael Biesecker / Associated Press & Andrew Taylor / Associated Press – 2017-10-23 21:52:48
GAO: Climate Change
Already Costing US Billions in Losses
Michael Biesecker / Associated Press & ENews
WASHINGTON (October 23, 2017) — A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing US taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.
A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year’s three major hurricanes and wildfires, expected to be among the most costly in the nation’s history.
The report predicts these costs will only grow in the future, potentially reaching a budget busting $35 billion a year by 2050. The report says the federal government doesn’t effectively plan for these recurring costs, classifying the financial exposure from climate-related costs as “high risk.”
“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” the study said. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”
GAO undertook the study following a request from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“This nonpartisan GAO report Senator Cantwell and I requested contains astonishing numbers about the consequences of climate change for our economy and for the federal budget in particular,” said Collins. “In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. We are experiencing a real change in the sea life, which has serious implications for the livelihoods of many people across our state, including those who work in our iconic lobster industry.”
The report’s authors reviewed 30 government and academic studies examining the national and regional impacts of climate change. They also interviewed 28 experts familiar with the strengths and limitations of the studies, which rely on future projections of climate impacts to estimate likely costs.
The report says the fiscal impacts of climate change are likely to vary widely by region. The Southeast is at increased risk because of coastal property that could be swamped by storm surge and sea level rise. The Midwest and Great Plains are susceptible to decreased crop yields, the report said. The west is expected to see increased drought, wildfires and deadly heatwaves.
Advance copies were provided to the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided no official comments for inclusion in the GAO report.
Requests for comment from The Associated Press also received no response on Monday.
President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, announcing his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords and revoke Obama-era initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed officials such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom question the scientific consensus that carbon released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.
Earlier this month Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White of Texas to serve as his top environmental adviser at the White House. She has credited the fossil fuel industry with “vastly improved living conditions across the world” and likened the work of mainstream climate scientists to “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.”
White, who works at a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies, holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature.
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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
$36.5 Billion Disaster Relief Package
Andrew Taylor / Associated Press
WASHINGTON (October 23, 2017) — The Senate on Monday gave a preliminary OK to a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package that would provide Puerto Rico with a much-needed infusion of cash and keep the federal flood insurance program from running out of money to pay claims.
The 79-16 procedural vote set the stage for a final vote, most likely Tuesday.
The measure also provides $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rapidly dwindling emergency disaster accounts. On Monday, FEMA announced more than $500 million in aid to Puerto Rico, including $285 million to help restore power and water services to the devastated island. An additional $16 billion would permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance program to pay an influx of Harvey-related claims.
But the bill rejects requests from the powerful Texas and Florida congressional delegations for additional money to rebuild after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, whose state’s citrus industry endured significant losses during Irma, sought to add $3 billion in immediate agriculture assistance to the measure, but was denied by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said money for crop losses would be in subsequent aid measures.
Senate passage on Tuesday would send the measure to President Donald Trump for his signature.
There was urgency to move the measure swiftly — rather than add more money to it at this time — because the government’s disaster response and flood insurance reserves are running out. Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said that would happen “in a matter of days” without action.
Still, members of the Texas and Florida delegations in Congress are unhappy because the measure failed to address extensive requests for additional hurricane rebuilding money. Texas, inundated by Harvey in August, requested $19 billion, while Florida sought $27 billion.
“I’m pretty disappointed with what the House sent over,” Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said last week. But later, after speaking to both Trump and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, Cornyn said he was promised that the White House would issue another disaster aid measure next month for Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. A fourth, and perhaps final, measure is likely to anchor a year-end spending bill.
“The victims of these hurricanes can continue to count on our support,” said McConnell said.
Up to $5 billion of the measure’s total could be used to assist Puerto Rico’s central government and various municipalities that are suffering unsustainable cash shortfalls as Maria has choked off revenues and strained resources. An additional $150 million would help Puerto Rico with the 10 percent match required for FEMA disaster relief.
More than one-fourth of the island’s residents don’t have potable running water and only 17 percent have electricity, according to FEMA. Just 392 miles of Puerto Rico’s 5,073 miles of roads are open. Conditions in the US Virgin Islands are bad as well, with widespread power outages.
But Trump last week graded his response to the Puerto Rico disaster a 10 on a scale of 10.
“President Trump seems more concerned about claiming credit for a job well done than the actual situation on the ground deserves, particularly in Puerto Rico,” Leahy said. “This is the hard part of governing,” he added. “We dig in for the long haul, we stop patting ourselves on the back.”
The measure currently before the Senate contains $577 million for wildfires in the West that forced agencies to tap other reserves for firefighting accounts and FEMA money.
Republicans delayed action last year on modest requests by President Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system. But they are moving quickly to take care of this year’s alarming series of disasters, quickly passing a $15.3 billion relief measure last month and signaling that another installment is coming next month.
Damage is still being assessed and final cost estimates for recovering and rebuilding from this year’s hurricane season are not in yet. Some House conservatives are becoming restive at the high price tag for the disasters, which come as the deficit is growing.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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