Summary

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing examining the recommendations of the White House State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The bipartisan Task Force of 26 governors, mayors, tribal leaders, and other officials spent a year compiling recommendations on how the federal government could help local communities be more resilient to climate change impacts. From an initial 500 ideas, the Task Force produced a report of 35 concrete recommendations for tools, training, funding and services the Federal Government can provide to help the nation’s communities increase their resilience. Even without taking into account the effects of climate change, making communities more resilient saves lives—and saves money in the long run.

Highlights:

  • Sam Ricketts, Director, Washington D.C. Office of Gov. Jay Inslee (D- WA), gave an overview of the recommendations made by the White House State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, on which Governor Inslee served. The Task Force originally came up with 500 ideas, which were boiled down to 35 recommendations in 7 main themes (see EESI's issue brief for a summary).
  • Ricketts said the most important action states want the federal government to take is to reduce carbon emissions, thereby addressing the problem at its source.
  • He described the multiple impacts Washington State is already experiencing because of climate change. These impacts—which include more extensive wildfires, extreme levels of precipitation, droughts, and ocean acidification (which is devastating their shellfish industry)—are expected to cost the state an estimated $10 billion a year.
  • Some of the actionable resiliency strategies advocated by the Task Force are building distributed clean energy systems, implementing better preventative management practices, and providing state and local governments better tools to help them identify climate risks.
  • The federal government, under the aegis of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), has already begun implementing some of the recommendations:
    • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has mandated that states must include climate change as a factor in their disaster preparedness and rebuilding plans.
    • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced a $1 billion resilience competition to fund projects in eligible states and localities.
  • Communities need both “top-down” and “bottom-up” action to implement resilience policies.
  • Jennifer L. Jurado, Director, Natural Resources Planning and Management Division in Broward County, Florida, discussed the impacts of climate change in Broward County and emphasized the need for federal collaboration at the state and local levels. Dr. Jurado worked closely with the Task Force and staffed the Broward County Commissioner who was a Task Force member.
  • Broward County (pop. 2 million), located between the Everglades and Atlantic Ocean, is a densely populated area that is susceptible to flooding, beach erosion, and water supply problems. Climate change has worsened these issues by causing sea level rise, extreme precipitation events, groundwater elevation, and, therefore, much more frequent flooding!
  • Jurado said that the infrastructure in Broward County is too old to meet the weather’s increasing intensity, making the community more vulnerable to economic, physical, and environmental damage.
    • For example, Jurado anticipates that Florida will lose 40 percent of its coastal capacity due to sea level rise. Many of Broward County’s water supplies are located along the coast, and would cost $300 to $400 million to relocate.
  • In Southeast Florida, decision makers from four counties—Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach—have formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to work together on making their communities more resilient to climate change. Investments in resilience are attracting unanimous local support, from both Democrats and Republicans (see a recent Washington Post article on the Compact).
  • Jurado said that federal programs must be better supported by state standards, and that, hopefully, South Florida can serve as a model for collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Carolyn Berndt, Program Director for Sustainability, National League of Cities (NLC), emphasized the leading role of cities in resiliency initiatives, a role that is likely to grow in importance with the approach of the United Nations climate negotiations in December.
  • Climate change will exacerbate localities’ existing challenges and create new ones. Because local governments are the first responders to emergencies, they are seeking federal help with long-term capacity building.
  • Berndt singled out two policies included in the Task Force recommendations that can help make cities more sustainable and resilient:
    • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which help homeowners finance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resiliency projects by allowing them to repay their loans through their property tax bills.
    • Green infrastructure, including green roofs that mitigate the urban heat island effect and help retain rainwater (thereby ensuring that exceptionally strong precipitation events don't overwhelm the sewer system).
  • The National League of Cities offered three recommendations to Congress to further sustainability and resiliency in cities:
    • Protect the tax exempt status of municipal bonds (which are essential to fund many resiliency projects).
    • Pass the Portman-Shaheen energy efficiency bill for broad, comprehensive energy reform.
    • Support PACE, tax credits for renewable energy, renewable portfolio standards, and other national policies that will drive long-term investments at the state and local levels.

The Task Force recommendations represent an enormous effort to understand the needs and challenges faced by communities across the country as they prepare for natural disasters that are more frequent and severe due to climate change. These challenges are not far away in the future: states and local communities are already experiencing the devastating consequences of climate change. In 2014, California’s extreme and prolonged drought led to the loss of 17,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in economic losses. Record-setting extreme rainfall in Colorado during September 2013 caused floods that destroyed thousands of homes, businesses, bridges and roads, causing an estimated $2 billion in damages. Many local leaders have already begun taking serious steps to respond to these kinds of challenges, with the understanding that action cannot be delayed. But small communities often lack the necessary resources to be fully effective, making federal help critical.

Among the Task Force’s recommendations is a proposal that the federal government spur the creation of Community Resilience Plans to help local leaders plan for natural disasters. The Task Force also calls for the removal of federal regulatory barriers during rebuilding after a natural disaster, and prioritizing rebuilding with resilient infrastructure that will be better able to weather the next storm. The Task Force emphasizes that the federal government has a lot of leverage: it can require infrastructure projects benefiting from federal funding to take into account climate vulnerabilities.

This event is the first in a two-part series on climate resilience. The second event, to be held April 20, will focus on tribal climate resilience and adaptation issues, with a focus on the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in Louisiana. It will soon be the first coastal indigenous community to relocate due to sea level rise in the modern era.