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
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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