February 25, 2014

EPW Subcommittee Examines Natural Resource Adaptation

Washington, DC – Following the Obama Administration’s recently announced proposal for a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today chaired a hearing entitled “Natural Resource Adaptation: Protecting Ecosystems and Economies.”  The hearing, which was held in Whitehouse’s Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Oversight, examined the benefits of healthy ecosystems to the tourism, recreation, and fishing industries, as well as to providing clean water and flood protection.

Witnesses at the hearing included Administration officials, wildlife advocates, and Rhode Island commercial fisherman Chris Brown, among others.  In addition to discussing the Administration’s proposed resilience fund and other elements of the President’s Climate Action Plan, witnesses also spoke about the Safeguarding America’s Future and the Environment (SAFE) Act (S. 1202), which Whitehouse introduced last year with then-Senator Max Baucus (D-MT).

“From the beaches of Rhode Island to the glaciers of Montana, natural ecosystems provide us with life’s essentials: clean air and water, crops and timber, recreation and our heritage.  Climate change threatens to rob us of these essential benefits,” Whitehouse said.  “While we must take steps to avoid the worst effects of climate change by limiting carbon pollution, we must also begin to adapt, and secure our natural resources against the changes we can no longer avoid.  I was glad to hear from Administration officials today about the plans they are putting in place, and appreciated the opportunity to hear from witnesses about how the SAFE Act could further strengthen adaptation efforts.”

The SAFE Act would provide local communities with better tools to prepare for extreme weather and require federal agencies to implement a coordinated strategy for adapting, restoring, and protecting the natural resources that American tourism and recreation jobs and local economies depend on.

Dr. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that in 2012 alone eleven weather or climate events each resulted in losses exceeding $1 billion in the U.S., totaling $110 billion in damages and 377 deaths.  “The health of the U.S. economy rests on many pillars, and one of those pillars…is the health of our natural environment and the resources it provides,” Holdren said.  “Recent events have reinforced our knowledge that our communities and economy remain vulnerable to extreme weather, natural hazards, and climate change.  For that reason, two weeks ago in Fresno, the President announced that the 2015 Budget will include a new $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund.”

Responding to a question from Senator Whitehouse, Holdren added that, “Almost invariably, when you count up the costs of allowing this damage to continue unabated versus the costs of intervening to reduce the damage or increase resilience to protect against it, you find that these investments are a bargain.”

Speaking on the need for adaptation, Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated, “It could be said that the abundance of natural resources in the United States has contributed to our global economic leadership.  We recognize the importance of these resources to a range of economic sectors, and we know that climate change is already and will continue to impact their availability for current and future generations of Americans.”

David Houghton, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, focused on the support wildlife refuges provide local communities.  “The purpose of restoration projects at John Chafee National Wildlife Refuge and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island is to increase coastal resilience to a changing climate for eight local communities, economies and wildlife that depend on healthy salt marsh ecosystems on over 400 acres in key coastal areas of Rhode Island.”

Chris Brown, President of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association spoke about an ocean in flux.  “I fish on a much different ocean today than when I first started fishing with my grandfather as a boy in the mid-1960s.  When I started out, catching haddock in the waters around Pt Judith was commonplace and a daily component of our catch.  Last year I caught only two.”

Brown also spoke in support of Whitehouse’s SAFE Act, saying it “represents a new set of eyes on the problem and another tool in the tool box.”

Noah Matson, Vice President for Climate Adaptation at Defenders of Wildlife, added that, “This non-regulatory bill, supported by Defenders of Wildlife and sportsmen, conservation and recreation organizations, recognizes the countless benefits that healthy natural resources provide to our country’s health, safety, economy and well-being, underscores the urgent need to help them adapt to a more rapidly changing climate and provides a road map to do so.”

The other witnesses at today’s hearing were Dr. Patrick Moore, Chair and Chief Scientist for Ecosense Environmental in Vancouver; and Mr. Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.


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