November 22, 2019

Cardin: GAO Says Failure to Prepare for Climate Change Impacts Will Cost Taxpayers

Since 2005, federal funding for disaster assistance is at least $450 billion

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, announced Friday the results of a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlining how unprepared the federal government is for climate change and extreme weather events. In a study requested by Senator Cardin, GAO lays out what small investments in resilience have been made to date, but laments the vast financial exposure facing the federal government for its lack of strategic planning. According to GAO, the federal government has spent at least $450 billion for disaster assistance since 2005. The report can be downloaded here.

“The best available science tells us that climate change is causing irreparable harm and that the increasing instances and severity of extreme weather are adding to social and economic instability. Dealing with climate change has become a national security imperative and the longer we turn a blind eye to the impacts, the more costly it will be for American taxpayers,” said Senator Cardin. “Americans have a right to expect that their tax dollars are spent on the most effective resilience projects and that Congress will do everything within its power to ensure that happens.”

On September 8, 2017, Senator Cardin sent a letter asking GAO to identify the benefits of adaptation to manage federal climate change fiscal exposure. The result is the report released today: “Climate Resilience: A Strategic Investment Approach for High-Priority Projects Could Help Target Federal Resources.”

In the report, GAO sets out six key steps that provide an opportunity for the federal government to strategically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for investment, based on GAO’s review of its prior work, relevant reports, and stakeholder interviews with officials from the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which produces the National Climate Assessment, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others with expertise in climate resilience and hazard mitigation.

GAO identified two options for focusing federal funding on high-priority climate resilience projects: coordinating funding through multiple existing programs with varied purposes and creating a new federal funding sources dedicated to investment in climate resilience and assessed the strengths and limitations of each option.

The report’s findings make clear that the federal government does not have a strategic approach for investing in climate resilience projects—that is, an intentional, cross-cutting approach in which the federal government identifies and prioritizes projects for the purpose of enhancing climate resilience. Information on the benefits and costs of climate resilience projects suggests that such projects can convey benefits, such as protecting life and property from climate hazards, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment and other reports GAO reviewed.

Senator Cardin: “Maryland’s miles of low-lying coast make it particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Inland, South Baltimore, Frederick and Ellicott City have seen unprecedented flooding due to human-caused changes to our climate. Our water and transportation infrastructure systems will be challenged with the expected increase in rainfall in the region, causing damage to homes and businesses. I will continue to advocate for climate resilience investments to ensure communities in Maryland and the nation are prepared.”

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