Last week, the National Journal’s Energy and Environment Experts Blog asked, “What’s in store for 2012?” Read about what environmental priorities Defenders president and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark thinks Congress should focus on this year.
The damages of last year’s record-setting droughts, floods and fires are estimated to have cost the country more than $52 billion. Not to mention the costs to our natural resources. The Texas Forest Service estimates as many as 500 million trees throughout the state were killed by the year’s horrific drought —a full 10 percent of the forests in the Lone Star State. And according to the top international climate scientists that comprise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the natural disasters of last year were only a preview of the extreme weather to come.
Instead of waiting for 2012 to deliver worse and potentially deadlier punches, Congress should take this opportunity to fortify our natural defenses and prepare ourselves for what’s ahead. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Max Baucus (D-MT) have taken the first important step in that direction. In November the two introduced the Securing America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act, a bill that outlines the countless benefits that healthy natural resources provide to our country’s safety, economy and well being, and provides a roadmap to help them adapt to a more hostile climate. From combating pests in forests in order to prevent fires to restoring watersheds that protect drinking water supplies, the legislation offers common-sense solutions to protecting our communities, natural resources and wildlife in an uncertain future.
Without a doubt, the coming year will be one of belt tightening and tough budgeting. The SAFE Act does not appropriate money but does provide a clear outline of how our resource agencies can strengthen and protect our invaluable resources through new planning and coordination. The bill is an investment plan; each step taken to help our natural resources adapt to a changing climate now will save us time, money and energy down the road.
We may not know what the coming year will bring. But by passing the SAFE Act, Congress can ensure America is ready to meet the challenges of the future head-on, in 2012 and beyond.