By Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman
On December 19, 2012, Senators John Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation to help communities reduce fatalities and damages from future climate related extreme weather events. The Strengthening the Resiliency of Our Nation on the Ground (STRONG) Act, S. 3691, would direct:
the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to chair a high-level interagency working group to first conduct an assessment of Federal agencies’ current and planned activities related to short-and long-term extreme weather resilience across key sectors and then develop a plan to support State, local, and private and public sector resiliency efforts.
S. 3691 would rely on the federal, state, and local governments to work together to develop community resiliency plans.
The bill responds to the devastating floods, heavy storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires that recently plagued the United States. In 2011–12 there were 21 extreme weather events that each caused at least $1 billion in damages, with a total of up to $174 billion in total damages. And these events took at least 1,021 lives. Two-thirds of counties in the continental U.S. were declared a disaster for at least one of these most damaging events.
Sen. Lautenberg noted that:
Yesterday’s extreme weather has become today’s normal, and the federal government must lead in the effort to help better prepare our communities for future storms and emergency events.
This new normal is occurring because of climate change. It increases the likelihood and/or severity of these extreme weather events. Kevin E. Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, recently noted that:
All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.
The warm moist air is readily advected onto land and caught up in weather systems as part of the hydrological cycle, where it contributes to more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring.
This new bill responds to the growing threat to communities from extreme weather. Sen. Kerry said that “We owe it to people everywhere to strengthen our ability to respond to the next Sandy, in whatever form it may come.”
The bill would require:
- a federal government analysis of
Federal agencies’ current and planned activities on short- and long-term extreme weather resilience in key sectors: agriculture; forestry and natural resources management; water management; energy supply and transmission; infrastructure, including transportation, water and wastewater and coastal infrastructure; public health and healthcare infrastructure; communications; housing and other buildings, national security; and emergency preparedness.
- federal agencies to “help develop an extreme weather resiliency action plan to support State, local, and private and public sector resiliency efforts.”
- reports to measure the effectiveness of these efforts.
Investments in resiliency pay off. The Federal Emergency Management Administration estimated that every $1 spent on resiliency yields $4 in future benefits.
The STRONG Act would rely on congressional appropriations to fund these aforementioned activities. Congressional appropriations for pre-disaster mitigation have been decreasing even as natural disaster costs have increased. In the past two years, Congress allocated only a combined $85.5 million for pre-disaster mitigation even there have been billions of dollars in damages from the most destructive events.
To help communities become more resilient, there must be a dedicated source of revenue not subject to the vagaries of the appropriations process. Since the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather events will be exacerbated by climate change, it makes sense to raise revenue for resiliency from the fossil fuels whose combustion emits the carbon pollution responsible for climate change.
Creating a dedicated revenue source for community resiliency efforts is unlikely to be developed if left to Congress. For instance, Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) implied that he may oppose future resiliency investments included in the emergency supplemental appropriation bill for Sandy recovery. Some conservatives oppose helping communities become less vulnerable to extreme weather. The Heritage Foundation said that giving money to communities to protect themselves against future storms is an “embarrassingly transparent slush fund.”
Devising dedicated revenue for resiliency must be shielded from partisan and ideological attacks. President Obama should appoint a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel to devise it. Panel members should come from states and communities that recently suffered from severe extreme weather events. This blue-ribbon panel should be given a short window of time to produce a carefully focused report that:
- Estimates federal expenditures on disaster relief and recovery over the past several years
- Projects the financial support that communities need to implement their resiliency plans
- Recommends a secure revenue stream to provide resources for pre-disaster mitigation planning
- Establishes eligibility criteria for applications for revenue from this fund
As with other such panels or commissions, these leaders can then become strong advocates to urge Congress to adopt their recommendations.
With climate related destructive extreme weather the new American normal, Senators Kerry, Lautenberg and Gillibrand have taken important steps towards helping communities prepare for the coming floods, droughts, heat waves, storms and wild fires. Their STRONG Act would become stronger by including a dedicated source of revenue to ensure funding for these vital efforts.
For more on community resiliency, see “An Ounce Of Prevention: Increasing Resiliency To Climate-Related Extreme Weather.”
For more on the link between climate change and extreme weather, see our recent report, “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle- and Lower-Income Americans.”
Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant at the Center.