Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rider on the fiscal 2012 Department of Homeland Security spending bill that would prohibit the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) from participating in the administration’s Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. This amendment puts the nation at increased risk to lives, livelihoods, property and security and could end up costing taxpayers untold sums of money by preventing DHS from preparing for those risks.
The rider was championed by Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who charged that DHS should be focusing spending on securing the nation and not duplicating efforts of other agencies like EPA and NOAA. Unfortunately, Rep. Carter and the other members who voted for the amendment don’t appear to understand the diversity of functions and agencies in DHS, nor the risks they face with increased climate change and variability. To provide just two examples, DHS includes the U.S. Coast Guard and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Just days before the Carter rider passed, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo toured part of the Arctic Ocean off Barrow, Alaska to look at and discuss the challenges of the loss of sea ice due to climate change and the subsequent increased shipping, tourist cruises, oil drilling and other activity off the Alaska coast. The Rear Admiral pointed out the Coast Guard has no capacity to patrol or rescue in the area. As reported in the Arctic Sounder:
“The Coast Guard doesn’t have any publicly assigned assets (in the Arctic). None. Zero,” Ostebo said.
There’s no air station. No facilities to house men. The Coast Guard owns a single, aging icebreaker that’s based in Seattle and now headed to Alaska, the Healy.
“How exactly would we mitigate the damage from the mishap? How would we rescue all those people? Where would we take them?”
“If you take 100 people in a mass casualty to Barrow, then what? They obviously don’t have the infrastructure to take care of that, so where would you take them for advanced medical care? How would you respond to the salvage of a vessel?”
Or take FEMA. FEMA has been awfully busy the last few months with tragic tornadoes, devastating floods and rampant wild fires. The overall heating up of the planet is changing regional climate systems, making the climate, and subsequent weather, more variable and intense – intense storms and intense drought leading to worse floods, fires and other impacts. The recent Mississippi flood was the worst on record. Clearly, the agency charged with both insuring against flood risk and responding to natural disasters should prepare for events larger and more severe than recent history. Better preparation would save money and lives in disaster response.
But the 242 members of the House who voted for the Carter rider only want FEMA to prepare for disasters like the ones we have already had and not plan for what might come. They also don’t want FEMA to coordinate with other agencies on this type of planning, since that was a central role of the DHS Climate Adaptation Task Force.
The Carter rider will cost us in dollars and lives. The Senate should reject it outright.