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The U.S. government's inaction on combating the climate crisis is costing U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in disaster relief efforts, the GAO found. (Photo: maxstrz/flickr/cc)

Green New Deal Too Expensive? New GAO Report Details Hundreds of Billions in Climate-Related Damage

"The federal government must invest ahead of time to help communities prepare instead of just picking up the pieces after disasters strike."

Julia Conley

While many lawmakers and pundits continue to complain that the cost of an ambitious Green New Deal would be "too expensive," a new nonpartisan government agency report on Wednesday details the billions upon billions of dollars the U.S. is spending each year as the climate crisis continues to intensify.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its bienniel "High Risk" report Wednesday and presented its findings to the House and Senate. The study details waste, mismanagement, abuse, and fraud in government agencies and programs, and found that federal inaction regarding climate change is costing U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars annually.

According to the GAO, taxpayer funds spent on disaster relief could be saved if more effort and spending went into mitigating the climate crisis that is intensifying the frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters.

"Continuing to in the wrong direction will not only impose mounting costs on taxpayers, but could also jeopardize the health, safety, and livelihoods of people around the country." —Rachel Cleetus, UCS

"We found that federal investments in resilience could be more effective if post-disaster hazard mitigation efforts were balanced with resources for pre-disaster hazard mitigation," the report reads (pdf).

The U.S. government spent nearly half a trillion dollars on disaster relief since 2005, the GAO reported, "most recently for catastrophic hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and other losses in 2017 and 2018"—and such disasters are expected to cost more each year "as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change."

"Beginning in 2017, the administration revoked policies that had identified addressing climate change as a priority," the GAO added—making it highly unlikely that the Trump administration will give serious consideration to the office's warnings.

Critics demanded that the Trump administration take the report seriously "for the sake of communities on the frontlines of climate risks."

The report pointed to President Donald Trump's elimination of the Federal Flood Risk Management in August 2017—days before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston—as one example of how the president has increased "federal fiscal exposure," making it more likely that the U.S. will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on disaster relief when infrastructure is damaged by flooding.

The Obama-era standard had ordered builders to ensure that infrastructure can withstand rising sea levels and heavier downpours.

Trump's failure to reform national flood insurance and federal crop insurance programs also indicate his disinterest in admitting that the climate crisis is having an impact on farms and coastal communities vulnerable to flooding and in tackling the effects of climate crisis, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said in a statement about the report.

"The report cites the failure to reform the national flood insurance and federal crop insurance programs and account for climate risks to federally funded infrastructure as evidence that the U.S. government urgently needs to develop an adequate, comprehensive response to climate change," said Rachel Cleetus, lead economist for UCS's Climate and Energy Program.

"Continuing to [go] in the wrong direction will not only impose mounting costs on taxpayers, but could also jeopardize the health, safety, and livelihoods of people around the country," she added.

Cleetus cited a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, which bolstered the GAO's case that the government must develop a wide-ranging strategy to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure as well as sustainable energy to significantly reduce the united states' fossil fuel dependence.

"A recent study shows the nation can save $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on pre-hazard mitigation," she said.

"In light of growing extreme weather and climate-related disaster costs, the federal government must invest ahead of time to help communities prepare instead of just picking up the pieces after disasters strike," Cleetus added.

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