July 29, 2014

EPW Subcommittee Hearing Highlights Effects of Climate Change on American Communities

Washington, DC – Today, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a series of public hearings on its proposed Clean Power Plan and the White House released a new report on the economic costs of climate change, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse chaired a Senate hearing to examine the costs of failing to act on climate change.  While opponents of EPA’s Clean Power Plan argue that it constitutes a “war on coal,” Whitehouse’s hearing demonstrated the harm that fossil fuels are already inflicting on communities across the country by endangering public health, compromising infrastructure, and harming resources that people depend on to make a living.

The hearing, held in the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, was entitled “Examining the Threats Posed by Climate Change.”

“Some of my colleagues are from states that depend on fossil fuels.  They argue that steps to curb carbon pollution will hurt their economies, and understandably want to protect jobs in those industries,” Whitehouse said.  “But I also ask that they look at the other side of the ledger—the damage to coastal homes, infrastructure, and businesses from rising seas, erosion, salt water intrusion, and storm surge; hospitalizations and missed school or work for families when asthma attacks are triggered by extreme heat and smog; forests ravaged by beetle infestations and unprecedented wildfire seasons; farms plundered by drought and flood… That side of the ledger counts, too, and the costs are high.”

Witnesses testifying at today’s hearing were Mr. Carl G. Hedde CPCU, Head of Risk Accumulation for Munich Reinsurance America, Inc; the Honorable Kristin Jacobs, Commissioner for Broward County, FL; Mr. Bill Mook, President of the Mook Sea Farm; Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, Ph.D. and Adjunct Professor at the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Copenhagen Business School; Mr. Raymond J. Keating, Chief Economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

Commissioner Jacobs spoke about the real costs of climate change for South Florida communities.  “Our extensive coastline, low land elevations, flat topography and unique geology combine to put south Florida communities on the front line for combatting climate impacts,” she noted.  “In southeast Florida, the hazards are diverse and include coastal and inland flooding, storm surge, saltwater contamination of drinking water supplies, impacts to water and wastewater systems, beach erosion, and threats to public and private property and infrastructure. We will also experience hotter temperatures, public health challenges such as longer and more severe heat waves, ocean acidification and warming with impacts to coral reefs and fisheries, and additional stresses on the Everglades.”

Mr. Mook spoke about the effects of ocean acidification on oyster farms in the northeast, noting that, “Shellfish hatcheries are ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for water quality problems because the early life stages we rear are so sensitive to changes in water chemistry.  When larval production in our hatchery began to falter about 5 years ago, we started a journey to figure out and solve the problem, which (for now) we have done.  We suspected ocean acidification was the root of our problem, and this assumption drove our efforts to change hatchery practices.  After seeing the results of our remedies this year, we believe that our hunch was correct.”

Mr. Hedde spoke about the property insurance industry’s concerns regarding climate change and increased instances of weather catastrophes.  “Due to our history of insuring natural catastrophe, Munich Re was one of the first companies in the industry to recognize the impact that weather-related events and a changing climate could have on its business model and customers,” Hedde said.  “As a nation, we need to take steps to reduce the societal impact of weather events as we see greater variability and volatility in our climate.”


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