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Homeland Security and Climate Change: Excerpts from a Senate Hearing

800px-United_States_Capitol_Building-_west_front_editAs we reported, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing yesterday titled “Extreme Weather Events: The Costs of Not Being Prepared.” The full video of the hearing is now up on the committee website. The hearing included a significant and thoughtful discussion of climate preparedness, and anyone who is interested in the subject should watch it in its entirety. In this post, we highlight a number of excerpts from the written testimony of panelists from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

First, below are excerpts relating to the security implications of climate change from the joint statement for the record from Assistant Secretary David Heyman, Office of Policy, Department of Homeland Security; and Assistant Secretary Caitlin Durkovich, Office of Infrastructure Protection, National Protection and Programs Directorate, Department of Homeland Security:

On preparing for the climate threat to infrastructure:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for providing the coordinated, comprehensive federal response in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency while working with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial and private sector partners to ensure a swift and effective recovery effort. This includes preparing for threats to critical infrastructure from extreme weather, often exacerbated by climate change, and responding to threats to critical infrastructure from extreme weather, often exacerbated by climate change, and other natural hazards…

On increased disaster risk due to climate change:

Weather events present a significant and growing challenge,as evidenced by multiple multi-billion dollar disasters occurring in recent years. Trends such as the impacts of climate change, the vulnerability of aging infrastructure, and increasing population density in high-risk areas increase the risk of disasters.

On “cascading” disasters:

The projected impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, can cause damage or disruptions that result in cascading effects across our communities, with immeasurable costs in lives lost and billions of dollars in property damage…

On incorporating climate change into the new “Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines:”

As a part of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce, NPPD-IP and other Federal partners worked to develop the Infrastructure Resilience Guidelines, which are sound investment principles to guide Federal infrastructure investment following a disaster. Included in the Guidelines is the concept that certain core approaches — incorporating changing climate and development patterns, making risk-based decisions, and evaluating approaches and techniques throughout the project lifecycle—will help encourage investment in more resilient infrastructure.

On the DHS role in the White House-led Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience:

Additionally, IP [Infrastructure Protection] co-chairs the new Infrastructure Resilience Work Group with the Department of Energy under the White House-led Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The purpose of this working group is to develop, recommend, and coordinate interagency efforts on climate preparedness and resilience for the Nation’s infrastructure, and to track implementation of interagency actions, including those in the President’s Climate Action Plan and Executive Order 13653,“Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” IP’s responsibilities include leading an effort to study infrastructure most vulnerable to climate impacts throughout the United States and identifying risk-based hazard mitigation and adaptation strategies. This will inform and aid the critical infrastructure community with planning and decision making regarding climate preparedness and resilience.

On FEMA’s debt, and projected economic losses from climate change:

FEMA is making great progress in building national preparedness and resilience. However, one FEMA tool—the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides flood insurance protection to property owners in exchange for local government floodplain management activities—is in debt $24 billion. This is due to spiraling costs and increasing payouts, particularly as events are becoming more extreme. This underscores the fiscal impact that severe weather is having on the U.S. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, future impacts of climate change project national economic losses on the order of $1.2 trillion through 2050.

On the role of the DHS “Science and Technology Directorate (ST):”

S&T has also developed a set of modeling and simulation solutions to enable rapid assessment of the implications of natural hazards for planning, response, and recovery operations. These solutions provide a unique capability that will help the Department understand the impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure, so hazard mitigation strategies can be planned and implemented in both the short and long term.

On the role of the DHS Office of Health Affairs (OHA):

A web-based tool set is currently in development and will provide planning guidance for communities to improve health resilience. OHA works closely with our Health and Human Services (HHS) partners to ensure integration of health resilience activities. The initiative incorporates climate change considerations.

On the role of the DHS Office of Policy (PLCY):

Further,PLCY leads the “One DHS” effort on climate adaptation–a Departmental initiative to ensure DHS missions appropriately account for climate risk as well as programs for key external stakeholders. In September 2013, then-Secretary Napolitano signed the DHS Climate Action Plan, which aligns to and implements the vision of The President’s Climate Action Plan. PLCY chairs both the executive-level and program manager-level bodies that regularly meet to ensure implementation. There are 36 actions in all, intended to help state and local governments, private sector owners and operators of infrastructure and individuals across the U.S. be climate prepared.

On the increase in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events:

With changing climate and development patterns and the severity and frequency of extreme weather events increasing, the U.S. cannot afford to leave homes, communities, and critical infrastructure vulnerable. There was a record 98 Presidentially-declared disasters in FY 2011 alone.

Second, we are including excerpts from the statement for the record from Mark Gaffigan, Managing Director, Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office (GAO):

On property and crop insurance:

The financial risks from two federal insurance programs—the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC)—create a significant fiscal exposure. In 2012, the NFIP had property coverage of over $1.2 trillion and the FCIC had crop coverage of almost $120 billion. As of December 2013, FEMA’s debt from flood insurance payments totaled about $24 billion. For various reasons, FCIC’s costs more than doubled from $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $7.6 billion in fiscal year 2012. In 2007, GAO found that the agencies responsible for these programs needed to develop information on their long-term exposure to climate change. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 requires FEMA to use information on future changes in sea levels and other factors in updating flood maps used to set insurance rates. Private insurers are also studying how to include climate change in rate setting. GAO is currently examining the extent to which private and federal insurance programs address risks from climate change.

On climate change and DoD facilities:

The federal government owns and operates hundreds of thousands of facilities that a changing climate could affect. For example, in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Department of Defense (DOD) recognized the risk to its facilities posed by climate change, noting that the department must assess the potential impacts and adapt. GAO plans to report later this year on DOD’s management of climate change risks at over 500,000 defense facilities.

On infrastructure adaptation:

GAO’s April 2013 report on infrastructure adaptation concluded that the federal government could help state and local efforts to increase their resilience by (1) improving access to and use of available climate-related information, (2) providing officials with improved access to local assistance, and (3) helping officials consider climate change in their planning processes…

…According to a 2010 Congressional Budget Office report, total public spending on transportation and water infrastructure exceeds $300 billion annually, with roughly 25 percent of this amount coming from the federal government and the rest coming from state and local governments.20 These projects have large up-front capital investments and long lead times that require decisions about addressing climate change before its potential effects are discernable. The federal government plays a limited role in project-level planning for transportation and wastewater infrastructure, and state and local efforts to consider climate change in infrastructure planning have occurred primarily on a limited, ad hoc basis….

…Infrastructure is typically designed to withstand and operate within historical climate patterns. However, according to NRC, as the climate changes and historical patterns—in particular, those related to extreme weather events—no longer provide reliable predictions of the future, infrastructure designs may underestimate the climate-related impacts to infrastructure over its design life, which can range as long as 50 to 100 years. These impacts can increase the operating and maintenance costs of infrastructure or decrease its life span, or both, leading to social, economic, and environmental impacts….

For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that, within 15 years, segments of Louisiana State Highway 1— the only road access to Port Fourchon, which services virtually all deepsea oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico, or about 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply—will be inundated by tides an average of 30 times annually due to relative sea level rise. Flooding of this road effectively closes this port. Because of Port Fourchon’s significance to the oil industry at the national, state, and local levels, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in July 2011, estimated that a closure of 90 days could reduce the national gross domestic product by $7.8 billion.

On risk management:

Federal, state, and local policymakers increasingly view adaptation—adjustments to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change—as a risk-management strategy to protect vulnerable sectors and communities that could be affected by extreme weather events and changes in the climate. For example, adaptation measures may include raising river or coastal dikes to protect infrastructure from sea level rise, building higher bridges, and increasing the capacity of storm water systems. As stated in a 2010 National Research Council (NRC) report, even though uncertainties exist regarding the exact nature and magnitude of impacts, mobilizing now to increase the nation’s resilience can be an insurance policy against climate change risks.

On fiscal exposure:

Among other impacts, climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events such as floods, drought, and hurricanes that have cost the nation tens of billions of dollars in damages over the past decade. For example, Congress provided around $60 billion in budget authority for disaster assistance after Superstorm Sandy.These impacts pose significant financial risks, but the federal government is not well positioned to address this fiscal exposure, partly because of the complex nature of the issue…

…Climate-related impacts will result in increased fiscal exposures for the federal government from many areas, including, but not limited to its role as (1) the insurer of property and crops vulnerable to climate impacts, (2) the provider of aid in response to disasters, (3) the owner or operator of extensive infrastructure such as defense facilities and federal property vulnerable to climate impacts, and (4) the provider of data and technical assistance to state and local governments responsible for managing the impacts of climate change on their activities.

On financial risk from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC):

In March 2007, we reported that both of these programs’ exposure to weather-related losses had grown substantially, and that FEMA and USDA had done little to develop the information necessary to understand their long-term exposure resulting from climate change. We recommended that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security analyze the potential long-term fiscal implications of climate change on federal insurance programs and report their findings to Congress. The agencies agreed with the recommendation and contracted with experts to study their programs’ long-term exposure from climate change. Both agencies have incorporated the findings of the reports into their climate change adaptation plans—as directed by instructions and guidance implementing Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. We are currently examining how these programs account for climate change in their activities.

On utilizing climate change information for infrastructure planning:

Despite the risks posed by climate change, we found, in April 2013, that infrastructure decision makers have not systematically incorporated potential climate change impacts in planning for roads, bridges, and wastewater management systems because, among other factors, they face challenges identifying and obtaining available climate change information best suited for their projects…

…Moreover, local decision makers—who, in this case, specialize in infrastructure planning, not climate science—need assistance from experts who can help them translate available climate change information into something that is locally relevant…

…Any effective adaptation strategy must recognize that state and local governments are on the front lines in both responding to immediate weather-related disasters and in preparing for the potential longer-term impacts associated with climate change. We reported, in October 2009, that insufficient site-specific data—such as local temperature and precipitation projections—complicate state and local decisions to justify the current costs of adaptation efforts for potentially less certain future benefits. We recommended that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President develop a strategic plan for adaptation that, among other things, identifies mechanisms to increase the capacity of federal, state, and local agencies to incorporate information about current and potential climate change impacts into government decision making. USGCRP’s April 2012 strategic plan for climate change science recognizes this need by identifying enhanced information management and sharing as a key objective.

Our April 2013 report on infrastructure adaptation concluded that the federal government could help state and local efforts to increase their resilience by (1) improving access to and use of available climate-related information, (2) providing officials with improved access to local assistance, and (3) helping officials consider climate change in their planning processes. In April 2013 we recommended, among other things, that the Executive Director of USGCRP or other federal entity designated by the Executive Office of the President work with relevant
agencies to identify for decision makers the “best available” climate related information for infrastructure planning and update this information over time, and to clarify sources of local assistance for incorporating climate-related information and analysis into infrastructure planning, and communicate how such assistance will be provided over time. They have
not directly responded to these recommendations, but the President’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan and November 2013 Executive Order 13653 on Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change drew attention to these issues.27 For example, the Executive Order directs numerous federal agencies, supported by USGCRP, to work together to
develop and provide authoritative, easily accessible, usable, and timely data, information, and decision-support tools on climate preparedness and resilience.

1 Comment

  1. Vlad Fomin says:

    As I understand it , the main results are based on the Proceedings of the main thesis : adaptation to climate change and the restoration of infrastructure , both military and civilian purposes . IMHO, this focus Hearings peculiar policies , although it is incorrect in the strategic and economic plans. This is no fault of the politicians : they are focused on their own experience , i.e. the past … The reason of error are insufficient perseverance and confidence own scientists professionals involved in the preparation of the Hearings. Indeed , the apparent increased negative outcomes of climate change will require an exponential increase in flow capacities of the North Atlantic region for the adaptation and restoration of damaged and destroyed infrastructure . A preliminary assessment of extent of the damage is usually very low. For example, the assessment of damage from the current flooding in the UK is (according to the Prime Minister of the UK) one billion pounds … but not even considered that the recovery of soil fertility – in flooded areas – require at least 8 years . I regret that in the Proceedings generally not considered urgent need to stabilize the climate problem : affect the countries of the North Atlantic region – even delay the start of the work required for only one year – will be about $ 1 trillion . According to the most conservative estimates , in the framework of the current scenario.

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