Obama’s Sideways Climate Plan

President Obama’s all-out push on climate change is involving federal agencies far beyond EPA.

A satellite image of Hurricane Isaac as of about 10 a.m. EDT Tuesday.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
July 16, 2014, 5:51 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s big second-term push on cli­mate change is draw­ing in fed­er­al agen­cies that his­tor­ic­ally haven’t been front-and-cen­ter on glob­al-warm­ing policy.

That was clear­er than ever Wed­nes­day when the White House rolled out ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions to help states and com­munit­ies build their re­si­li­ence to more in­tense storms, high heat, sea-level rise, and oth­er ef­fects of cli­mate change.

Agen­cies in­volved in­clude the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, the Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment, and the Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment.

“It is fit­ting that these pro­grams span mul­tiple agen­cies be­cause many of them are the same ones that help com­munit­ies re­cov­er from de­struct­ive ex­treme weath­er events,” said Daniel J. Weiss, the seni­or vice pres­id­ent for cam­paigns at the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters.

While EPA rules to cut car­bon emis­sions from power plants have been by far the highest pro­file piece of the White House cli­mate agenda, Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ments high­light what has been a less flashy ef­fort: Gird­ing com­munit­ies against ef­fects of cli­mate change that are already un­der­way or ex­pec­ted in the fu­ture.

Here’s how some of these agen­cies are deep­en­ing their in­volve­ment:

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol re­leased a new guide to help loc­al pub­lic health de­part­ments as­sess their area’s vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies to health haz­ards linked to cli­mate change.

The Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment is an­noun­cing the award of more than $236 mil­lion for eight states to help them im­prove their rur­al elec­tric in­fra­struc­ture at a time when ex­perts say that cli­mate change is pla­cing new strains on en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture.

The In­teri­or De­part­ment’s Bur­eau of In­di­an Af­fairs an­nounced a $10 mil­lion Fed­er­al-Tri­bal Cli­mate Re­si­li­ence Part­ner­ship and Tech­nic­al As­sist­ance Pro­gram to help tribes.

The In­teri­or De­part­ment’s U.S. Geo­lo­gic­al Sur­vey and oth­er agen­cies launched a $13 mil­lion pro­gram to cre­ate ad­vanced three-di­men­sion­al map­ping data that the ad­min­is­tra­tion said will be use­ful to plan­ners.

The data can be “used in the areas of flood-risk man­age­ment, wa­ter re­source plan­ning, mit­ig­a­tion of coastal erosion and storm surge im­pacts, and iden­ti­fic­a­tion of land­slide haz­ards as an es­sen­tial com­pon­ent of sup­port­ing ac­tion on cli­mate re­si­li­ence,” a White House sum­mary states.

HUD un­veiled de­tails about a pro­gram Obama an­nounced in June: a $1 bil­lion com­pet­it­ive grant pro­gram for risk as­sess­ment and plan­ning, and car­ry­ing out pro­grams to build re­si­li­ence (such as tough­er build­ing codes).

New ef­forts through the FEMA in­clude up­dated guidelines for de­vel­op­ment of state haz­ard mit­ig­a­tion plans that spur states to “con­sider cli­mate vari­ab­il­ity as part of their re­quire­ment to ad­dress the prob­ab­il­ity of fu­ture events in state plan­ning ef­forts,” ac­cord­ing to the White House.

The vari­ous ini­ti­at­ives stem from “early feed­back” from the State, Loc­al, and Tri­bal Lead­ers Task Force on Cli­mate Pre­pared­ness and Re­si­li­ence that Obama cre­ated through an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der late last year, the White House said. 

The pres­id­ent is slated to meet with the group Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, and it’s plan­ning to provide fi­nal re­com­mend­a­tions this fall.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fo­cus on com­munity re­si­li­ence will save lives and fed­er­al funds. In the past three years, the 34 most de­struct­ive cli­mate-re­lated ex­treme weath­er events took 1,221 lives and caused $208 bil­lion in dam­ages. Every $1 in­vest­ment to help com­munit­ies pre­pare for fu­ture ex­treme weath­er re­duces dis­aster re­lief by $4,” Weiss said.

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