Capps, Pallone, Waxman, and 37 Colleagues Urge President Obama to Appoint Blue Ribbon Panel To Evaluate Climate Change Preparedness

Feb 11, 2013 Issues: Energy & Environment

WASHINGTON–Today Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-24), Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Congressman Henry Waxman (CA-33) and 37 of their colleagues urged President Obama to appoint a bipartisan, blue ribbon panel to develop a comprehensive plan to help local communities prepare for the anticipated impacts of climate change and associated extreme weather events. Citing the release of the 2013 National Climate Assessment and the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events like the drought and western wildfires, the lawmakers stressed the urgency of immediate action to mitigate the impacts of climate change our economy and infrastructure. 

“Recent extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy are a scary foreshadowing of what could happen with increased frequency if our local communities and infrastructure are not prepared for the impacts of climate change like increased flooding, droughts, and higher temperatures,” said Congresswoman Capps.  “Representing a coastal district, I know firsthand that our nation’s coastlines are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, where rising sea levels, greater erosion, and higher tides and storm surges could impact everything from our transit systems to our drinking water. To address these challenges, it’s imperative that we have a complete picture of what we’re already doing to prepare, what we still need to do, and how much we’ll need to invest in these efforts.”

States and communities throughout country, including several on the Central Coast, are already developing and implementing plans to reduce the potential impact of extreme weather on homes, businesses, electricity, water systems, and other essential infrastructure. Every dollar of investment in community resilience or mitigation returns $4 in economic benefit, according to the Multihazard Mitigation Council. These large scale infrastructure projects can be very expensive, and many communities are struggling to implement them because of the high cost. The financial difficulties have grown significantly worse in recent years due to dramatic budget reductions at all levels of government. To address this problem, the letter urges the blue ribbon panel to identify existing sources of funding and recommend a dedicated source of funding that Congress could enact to help local communities complete these critical projects.  

“Representing some of the some of the worst hit areas during Superstorm Sandy, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation that can be caused by global climate change,” said Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.  “Sadly, since the science indicates that we will continue to experience more and more severe weather in the future, it is crucial that we find ways to help impacted communities.  By establishing a panel that can offer much needed guidance to local communities and the federal government, areas affected by extraordinary weather events will be able to prepare for and respond to disasters more effectively.  Until we can work together to find solutions to global climate change, it is critical that we are prepared to react in the face of increasingly dangerous weather.”

“No matter how fast we act to address climate change, significant warming is already locked-in.  It’s critical that we begin now to build resilience into our communities so that they can withstand the effects of a changing climate,” said Congressman Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Text of the letter is included below.

Dear Mr. President:

We commend you for the bold commitment to addressing the threat of climate change you made in your inaugural address, and stand ready and willing to help you advance this goal. As part of this commitment, we urge you appoint a bipartisan blue ribbon panel to develop a comprehensive program to help local communities prepare for the anticipated impacts of an increase in climate-related extreme weather events.

As you know, recent extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, severe droughts, and wildfires have demonstrated the very real and urgent threat climate change poses to our communities and nations. The 2013 National Climate Assessment draft noted that “Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. … These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.” 

We must protect our communities from the potentially devastating impacts on both lives and livelihoods caused by climate related extreme weather. For example, Hurricane Sandy was an extraordinary storm that wreaked havoc across the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. However, it was only one of 25 deadly and destructive floods, droughts, heat waves, storms and wildfires in the last two years that each caused at least $1 billion in damages. These extreme weather events led to 1,113 fatalities and up to $180 billion in economic damages nationwide.

Scientists predict that extreme weather events will grow in frequency and/or ferocity over the coming years, particularly if unchecked climate pollution continues.  For instance, the National Climate Assessment draft explains that “sea level rise, combined with coastal storms, has increased the risk of erosion, storm-surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities.”   These events will have high human and economic costs, particularly on middle and lower income households. 

Fortunately, many of the communities that are most vulnerable to extreme weather are working with local stakeholders to develop and implement plans to reduce the potential impact of extreme weather on homes, businesses, electricity, water systems, and other essential infrastructure.  Every dollar of investment in community resilience or mitigation returns $4 in economic benefit, according to the Multihazard Mitigation Council.  Nonetheless, it is difficult for many communities to make such investments because of dramatic budget reductions in recent years. While local communities must ultimately make the decisions that are best for their respective communities, the significant public benefit and high cost of these projects create a compelling interest for the federal government to assist these communities with these resilience efforts.

We urge you to appoint a bipartisan blue ribbon panel to develop a comprehensive plan to help local communities prepare for the anticipated impacts of increased climate-related extreme weather. Within six months, the blue ribbon panel should:

  • Determine total federal expenditures on disaster relief and recovery over the past five years, broken down by disaster and project type;
  • Estimate the financial support necessary for communities to develop and implement plans to increase their resilience to floods, severe storms, droughts, heat waves, sea level rise, wildfires, and day-to-day economic impacts;
  • Identify federal programs that already provide funding for resilience efforts;
  • Recommend a dependable revenue stream to provide additional resources for local pre-disaster mitigation planning;
  • Establish eligibility criteria for applications for this revenue.

The panel’s membership should include people who led recovery efforts from recent weather tragedies, including governors, mayors, first responders, and business and civic leaders. After an opportunity for public comment, the blue ribbon panel should forward its recommendations to you and Congress for action.

Since we cannot prevent extreme weather events from happening in the future, we must take action now to safeguard our communities from their devastation. Assessing current efforts and developing comprehensive strategies will provide an important guide for these actions, which will save lives as well as reduce the tens billions of dollars spent on disaster relief and recovery.

Again, we thank you for your commitment to addressing climate change and stand ready and willing to help you advance this goal. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

###