As Floods And Fires Mount, House Forbids FEMA, Coast Guard From Preparing For Climate Disasters

FEMA is assessing damage caused by tornadoes in Massachusetts powered by record June heat.

While officials throughout the U.S. Department of Homeland Security scramble to deal with a torrent of extreme climate disasters, the Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives has voted to cripple their response. In a nearly party-line vote of 242 to 180 on Thursday, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from participating in the Obama administration’s Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. Carter justified his amendment by saying DHS — which includes the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — should focus on the Mexican border instead of “duplicating the work” of agencies that monitor climate change and greenhouse pollution:

“Why, at a time when our nation is running a public debt of over $14 trillion, should the Department of Homeland Security be spending money on a Climate Change Adaptation Task Force?” he said, adding that the money would be better spent securing the southern border with Mexico. “These are the priorities that the Secretary should be focusing on — not wasting time duplicating the work of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

Disaster planning is a form of climate change adaptation,” the Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation’s October 2010 progress report recognizes.The task force, mandated by President Barack Obama in executive order 13514 to develop a “U.S. strategy for adaptation to climate change,” has already produced a national action plan for managing freshwater resources in a changing climate. FEMA has the critical mission of revising the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Coastal Construction Manual to reflect the impacts of global warming on sea level rise, storms, and floods.

The work of the climate adaptation task force, including the Department of Homeland Security, to mobilize our nation against climate disasters is desperately needed:

— The U.S. Coast Guard has closed a more than 180-mile stretch of the Missouri River due to flood levels that are expected to last the entire summer.

— FEMA is handling 37 presidential major disaster declarations, 7 emergency declarations, and 57 fire management assistance declarations for 2011 — before the hurricane season has begun. These disasters include May’s tornado outbreaks, the raging wildfires of Texas and Arizona, the killer snowstorms of February and March, and flooding from North Dakota to Mississippi.

The Republican Party is doing its utmost to cripple our nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to climate disasters. At Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s behest, House GOP slashed clean energy investments to pay for emergency disaster relief following the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornadoes. They cut the DHS disaster preparedness budget, including firefighter funding, in half (after Democrats raised an outcry, some firefighter grants were restored). They have blocked funding for the NOAA Climate Service, and slashed money for critical weather satellites. In states throughout the nation, conservatives are gutting clean-energy programs and attacking climate science, while local emergency services budgets are stripped to the bone.

With the security of our homeland under the clear and present threat of global warming, conservatives are choosing to cripple our defenses, simply to serve the obscene profits of climate polluters.

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