Bloomberg News

Half U.S. Population Vulnerable to Climate Change: Report

May 06, 2014

Half U.S. Population at Risk of More Severe Weather, Report Says

A Park Service employee clears snow in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 13, 2014. Photographer: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

More than half the U.S. population lives in coastal areas that are “increasingly vulnerable” to the effects of climate change, which will ripple throughout the U.S. economy, a White House advisory group’s report concluded.

The report released today said the impact of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is already affecting Americans, with coastal flooding, heavier downpours and more intense wildfire episodes. And more changes are coming.

“The real bottom line is that climate change is not a distant threat,” John Holdren, the White House science adviser, told reporters today. “It’s already affecting different regions in the country.”

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The findings may bolster President Barack Obama’s energy and environmental agenda, which he is pursuing without legislation from Congress, as well as his proposals to prepare the U.S. to deal with global warming. The administration is focusing on climate change policies this week in conjunction with the release of the report, said John Podesta, an Obama adviser who’s overseeing the president’s climate plans.

The warming climate will affect broad sectors of the economy, from infrastructure along the densely populated corridor from Washington to New York to Boston, to crops in the Midwest farm belt to water supplies in growing cities of the Southwest, the authors concluded.

Republican Criticism

Republicans such as Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said the administration is using climate change to support new regulations they say would eliminate jobs.

“The president is attempting to once again distract Americans from his unchecked regulatory agenda that is costing our nation millions of job opportunities and our ability to be energy independent,” Inhofe said in an e-mail statement.

Barrasso said Obama is “ignoring” the American people who want good jobs and instead is “doubling down today on extreme regulations that will put more Americans out of work.”

The report will give state and local government officials the information they need to plan for the impact of climate change, and “hopefully this will change some minds” in Congress and the “climate deniers will recede,” Podesta said.

“This is actionable science,” he said today.

Coal’s Role

Coal is responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution, followed by oil, natural gas and cement, the report said. The coal industry’s complaints about Obama’s climate plans didn’t recede today.

“Facing a recovering, yet fragile, economy, with families across the country struggling to make ends meet, it is concerning that the Obama administration is busy promoting its politically driven climate change agenda, instead of addressing the real issues plaguing our nation,” said Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

In his last budget, Obama asked Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund. It would pay for research to better understand the effect of climate change on rural areas, cities and their public works programs, and help them prepare to reduce future risks such as rising water, higher-than-average temperatures and more frequent severe weather.

Some of the effects of climate change can be reduced by enhancing coastal wetlands and supporting urban forests, according to budget documents.

Spending Blocked

Republicans in Congress, some of whom have questioned whether the climate is warming because of human activity, have rejected many of the new spending proposals Obama has presented in past budgets.

In 2012, nations including the biggest emitters of carbon pollution -- the U.S. and China -- agreed to negotiate a new climate change treaty by 2015 that would limit fossil fuel emissions starting in 2020. The accord would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set pollution-reduction targets for more than 30 developed countries.

Obama last year released his Climate Action Plan that seeks to reduce carbon pollution in the U.S. about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. In February, he announced plans to increase fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for large trucks by March 2016.

Podesta tied the climate goals to the administration’s energy policy. He said the policy, combined with new technology in the drilling industry, has helped the U.S. become the biggest global producer of natural gas.

Fracking Backed

Podesta said tapping gas reserves through a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will continue to be supported by the administration and largely regulated by states rather than the federal government. He said using cleaner natural gas is an environmental improvement.

“For the most part there’s been upside as we’ve seen cleaner natural gas replacing dirtier fossil fuels in the electricity system in particular,” he said.

Fracking is opposed by environmental groups that typically support Obama and other Democrats. The panel’s report was released as the administration weighs whether to approve TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy crude from Canada to refineries along the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Keystone Review

Obama has said he would reject Keystone if it were found to significantly worsen global warming, as environmental groups contend. A U.S. State Department review of the $5.4 billion project has been delayed until a legal challenge to the existing route in Nebraska is resolved, and a decision isn’t likely before the November election.

Environmental groups consider Keystone a threat to the climate because it would encourage development of Alberta’s oil sands, which releases more greenhouse gases than other forms of oil. They have pressed Democratic lawmakers to vote against a Senate bill set for consideration as soon as this week that would bypass Obama and approve the pipeline.

In connection with the climate change assessment, Obama will sit for interviews with eight television meteorologists from network and local programs. Separately, Podesta will be joined by other administration officials including John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, at an event to discuss the assessment.

To contact the reporters on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net; Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net; Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net Steve Geimann


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