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Congress’s Inaction on Climate Change Imposes an Unfunded Mandate on State and Local Governments

WASHINGTON -

Today—one day before the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy’s landfall in New Jersey—the Center for American Progress released an analysis assessing the magnitude of the costs of preparing for more extreme weather and other climate change impacts that Congress is imposing on state, local, and tribal governments by failing to enact policies to curb U.S. emissions of heat-trapping pollution.

“If we take into account the actions necessary to respond to extreme events and other climatic changes and to build resilience for the future, the aggregate costs in the United States could reach hundreds of billions of dollars annually,” said Fran Sussman, senior economist and co-author of the report. “Undoubtedly, these costs will be borne in large part by state and local governments.”

“Just one year after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, many in Congress continue to deny that climate change is real,” said Cathleen Kelly, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “Meanwhile communities across the country are left to cope with the devastating damages and high costs of more severe storms, floods, and drought. By failing to take action to tackle climate change, Congress is imposing a burdensome unfunded mandate on state and local governments and the American people.”

To stop imposing a costly unfunded mandate on the American people, the authors recommend that Congress and the president take immediate action in the following three areas:

Recognize and reverse the unfunded mandate

  • Congress must assess the unfunded mandate that it is imposing on state, local, and tribal governments by failing to enact ambitious climate change policies.
  • Congress must require that all proposed energy legislation undergo a carbon audit to reveal its effect on carbon pollution. Bills that do not meet a minimum threshold for performance should be subject to review and revision.

Adequately fund community resilience efforts

  • Congress must create a dedicated fund to support community resilience efforts, which reduce the costs of disaster response dramatically. As much as $4 in response costs are saved by each dollar invested in resilience efforts.
  • The president and federal agencies must make resilience a core aspect of federal disaster and infrastructure assistance.
  • Congress must adequately fund federal programs that provide state and local governments with the climate change risk information and planning tools they need to make smart resilience investments. It must also require more analysis of the cost of climate inaction in the National Climate Assessment.

Lower future climate change risks and disaster-response and rebuilding costs

  • The president must continue to support and enforce the Environmental Protection Agency’s, or EPA’s, carbon-pollution standards for new and existing power plants.
  • Congress must enact legislation and the president must use existing EPA authority to reduce climate-changing super pollutants.
  • The president and Congress must act across the board to eliminate unnecessary and outdated fossil fuel subsidies and to support emerging low- and no-carbon energy-technology solutions.
  • Congress must ultimately enact legislation to put a price on carbon.

Read the analysis: Climate Change: An Unfunded Mandate by Cathleen Kelly, Fran Sussman, and Kate Gordon

***Find a full list of products addressing the issues surrounding Superstorm Sandy and climate resiliency here***

To speak with an expert on this topic, contact Anne Shoup at 202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org.

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Center for American Progress

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.

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