A policy change at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will now include combating global warming in addition to helping communities recover from natural disasters. This new policy may even force climate denying Republican governors to act.
In July, 2014, President Obama announced that states will need to include details of how they are preparing for climate change to qualify for preparedness funds. FEMA’s policy shift is one of the recommendations of President Obama State, Local, and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience which was established in 2013.
To qualify for FEMA’s preparedness funding states must now conduct a formal analysis of climate risks. They must also enact policies and projects that make them less vulnerable. This includes everything from building retrofits to flood zones.
The increase in climate change related extreme weather events have forced FEMA to divert funds from long-term rebuilding projects. According to the NOAA, $1-billion-plus disasters are growing 5 percent a year since 1980. FEMA’s policy shift is a good investment as every dollar spent on preventions saves four times that amount in recovery assistance.
The National Flood Insurance Program is $18 billion in debt and that will increase as floods zones grow from rising sea levels. FEMA is also incorporating climate science into its own budgeting process and the agency has been forced to ask Congress for additional funds. FEMA’s new policy may also cause governors to appeal to Congress for financial assistance to help them with climate resilence.
FEMA’s new policy will have interesting implications for anti-science Republican governors. According to a recent Think Progress article, more than half of
Republican governors (Fifteen out of twenty nine) openly deny climate
science. None of the country’s Democratic governors have made public
statements denying climate change.
Ironically, some of the red states that are most at risk from climate change induced extreme weather are governed by anti-science climate deniers. Climate denying governors have received billions of dollars in disaster relief from FEMA (Louisiana received over $1.25 billion, and Texas, more than $880 million).
Governors will be denied FEMA support unless they get real about climate change and help their states to adapt. Even though the Republican governors in these states deny that extreme weather events are due to climate change, they may be forced to adopt science driven climate policies rather than forgo federal aid.