Comments on the adaptation provisions in the Waxman-Markey draft climate legislation


Of all the climate change bills introduced in Congress during the last decade, the Waxman-Markey “discussion draft” bill released March 31—the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”— has some of the most sophisticated, well thought-out legislative proposals on adaptation we have seen thus far.  A companion piece to this post summarizes the provisions under Title IV of the bill, creating a domestic and an international adaptation program.  Here we offer comments intended to inform the policy discussion going forward.  The bill gets high marks for understanding what it will take to raise the level of US preparedness for climate disruption, but we have concerns about its prescribed management structure (see Details). 

post by Anne Polansky

We offer comments and some recommended changes for the following sections of the Waxman-Markey draft legislative proposal, summarized in a companion post


. . . Subtitle E – Adapting to Climate Change

. . . . .  Part 1 – Domestic Adaptation
. . . . .  Part 2 – International Climate Change Adaptation Program

Below we identify the key provisions, provide our comments, and suggest some needed changes. 

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Climate Change Adaptation Council

Subpart A of Part 1 on Domestic Adaptation creates a National Climate Change Adaptation Program, for the purpose of “increasing the overall effectiveness of Federal climate change adaptation efforts,”  and establishes a National Climate Change Adaptation Council, charged with serving as “a forum for interagency consultation on, and coordination of, Federal policies relating to assessment of, and adaptation to, the impacts of climate change on the United States and its territories.”  Its members are to be representatives from each of 16 different federal agencies and departments, and “such other Federal agencies or departments as the President considers appropriate.”  The bill assigns Council chairmanship to the representative of NOAA. 

CSW comment:

As Yogi Berra said:  “This is like déjà vu all over again!”  The federal multiagency climate change research program we have in place today—the US Global Change Research Program, renamed the Climate Change Science Program under President Bush (see—henceforth referred to as the USGCRP —has a long history, having been established in 1989.  Going back even farther, the National Climate Program Act of 1978 established a multiagency climate research program with NOAA as the lead agency, and created a Climate Program Office at NOAA.  Other federal agencies essentially ignored it; it lacked the power needed to enlist the level of cooperation needed to create an integrated effort of the various federal entities involved in better understanding global warming and its implications for environment and society.  The National Climate Program, under NOAA’s lead, never got off the ground as a multiagency enterprise.  The interagency management structure established in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 was the answer to this problem, and for some years, it was quite effective in bringing together the many climate science research activities of over a dozen agencies to create an integrated program that grew markedly in the 1990s and was instrumental in providing state-of-the-art climate change data and information to the IPCC.  While the USGCRP now needs revitalizing and updating, its fundamental management structure proved to be much more effective than that spelled out in the National Climate Program Act. 

Placing NOAA in charge of a comprehensive program involving other federal entities, as this bill would do once again, may well be a recipe for failure.  Other agencies, particularly those with a long track record and substantial investments in climate change science, impacts assessments, and response strategies, are unlikely to defer to another agency on matters involving budget priorities and program management.  A better solution might be to include NOAA on the Council with the same stature as all of the other members, then to create a new position at the level of the White House, and to bring in someone with both strong climate science and management credentials.  This person would serve as Chair of the Council, and could reside within the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), or could be a part of Carol Browner’s team.  We also suggest consideration of adding representatives of several non-federal entities, such as state and local government officials and nonprofit organizations engaged in impacts assessment and adaptation efforts. 

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Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerability Assessments

The bill assigns a important task to the newly created National Climate Change Adaptation Program—to conduct National Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments and prepare quadrennial reports.

“Not later than January 1, 2012, and every 4 years thereafter, the Administrator of NOAA shall publish and deliver to the President a National Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment evaluating regional and national vulnerability to impacts of climate change, strategies to adapt to such impacts, and priorities for further research related to climate change impacts and adaptive capacity.” 

See our companion summary for the details of these provisions.

CSW comment: 

This bill takes an essential component of climate science (i.e., periodic assessments of climate change impacts at the national and regional level), a requirement that is already codified under the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 (PL 101-606) and falls under the purview of the USGCRP, and moves it to NOAA.  We believe it is a mistake to ignore the USGCRP this way.  While NOAA possesses a variety of programs, resources, and capabilities to conduct some types of climate change impacts assessments, it clearly lacks sufficient capabilities to conduct them alone.  The bill language indicates that NOAA will need to enlist the support and participation of other agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Geological Survey, and so on, but there is no mechanism built into these provisions that would suggest that NOAA will be successful in doing so.  In the quadrennial National Assessment reports required (which are already required under the GCRA of 1990), charging NOAA with providing “a prioritized list of strategies to address impacts and the roles of various federal entities in doing so”—and directing NOAA to “consult with the Council” in conducting these National Assessments and to “seek input and assistance from the Federal agencies represented on the Council”—likely will not result in the sort of truly integrated program needed to conduct impacts assessments.  Further, it is likely that other agencies will be conducting their own impacts assessments related to their agency missions and jurisdictions.  These agencies will not have a strong incentive to collaborate under NOAA’s lead unless the White House is directly involved in providing leadership. 

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National Climate Service

The bill establishes within NOAA a set of Climate Change Adaptation Services, including a National Climate Service (NCS) that “serves as a clearinghouse to provide State, local, and tribal government decisionmakers with access to regionally and nationally relevant information, data, forecasts, and services relating to climate change impacts and adaptation to such impacts.”  (emphasis added)  (See companion bill summary for the specific functions to be carried out by the NCS.) 

CSW comment

The main strength of this section is the set of four tasks outlined (see below); the activities described in the bill are precisely what needs to be happening all over the nation, in an orchestrated fashion, with the ability to replicate successful adaptation strategies as a result of a strong clearinghouse function that allows networking to identify common solutions to common problems. 

1)  develop and provide access to policy-relevant climate information products, databases, decision tools, and services for Federal, State, local, and tribal government decisionmakers and policymakers;

2)  provide technical assistance to Federal, State, local, and tribal government efforts to assess vulnerability to climate change impacts and develop appropriate strategies and plans to reduce such vulnerability;

3) facilitate communication and coordination among Federal, State, local, and tribal stakeholders with regard to climate change information and adaptation strategies; and

4) undertake education and outreach initiatives related to climate change impacts, vulnerabilities, and the application of climate information in decisionmaking.

However, creating a National Climate Service entirely within NOAA is a dubious idea, for many of the same reasons we suggest with regard to placing the primary responsibility for climate change impacts assessments with NOAA.  How will NOAA carry out its primary charge—to “develop and provide access to policy-relevant climate information products, databases, decision tools, and services for Federal, State, local, and tribal government decisionmakers and policymakers”—without being able to readily tap into the many informational and other resources at other agencies, such as the US EPA, the USGS,  NSF, and so on?  Clearly, other agencies have much to offer in the way of providing “climate services” and assisting state and local decisionmakers in developing strategies for coping with and adapting to impacts such as extreme weather, sea level rise, prolonged droughts, and so on.  We believe this piece of the bill puts the cart before the horse.  A deliberative process has been underway for some months now; a set of four “tiger teams” examined four different scenarios for establishing a National Climate Service—two of which provide for the significant participation of other federal and nongovernmental entities. 

See our related post:

Plans are underway to create a National Climate Service – But what does that mean, exactly?

The “tiger team” reports have been finalized and were formally submitted to the NOAA Administrator in mid-March, through NOAA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB).  CSW provided oral testimony and written comments to NOAA’s SAB:

CSW weighs in with NOAA advisory board on criteria for forming a National Climate Service

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s new Administrator—who has only been in place for two weeks—has not yet made any announcements regarding a final determination of the best way to proceed.  It is our understanding that there is not yet clarity even within NOAA regarding the respective roles and responsibilities of the various NOAA offices—the National Weather Service and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, for example.  Basic questions such as, should a National Climate Service be closely modeled after the National Weather Service, are still being deliberated among high-level NOAA officials.  Just how NOAA would relate to other federal and state/local government entities and nongovernmental organizations is still in relatively early deliberative stages.  To pass a bill now giving all of this authority and responsibility to NOAA absent a plan for involving other agencies and entities outside the federal government would be premature, and potentially damaging to our ability to move forward with all of the important work that needs to be done to assist communities across the nation in dealing with climate disruption.

We recommend placing on hold any legislative codification for a National Climate Service until this deliberative process—which should be opened up significantly to include other agencies and outside groups—matures more fully, and until we can begin “learning by doing” and working out some of the operational and structural bugs.  The agencies already have much of the authority they need to begin coordinating together to provide climate services.  What is badly needed is leadership within the White House apparatus to act as a strong coordinating function.  Our previous recommendation that President Obama should create a new position at the Council on Environmental Quality or as part of Carol Browner’s team applies for this provision as well. 


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As a component of a National Climate Service, the bill also directs NOAA to convene a set of regional and national workshops “to facilitate information exchange, outreach, and coordination of efforts on assessment of and adaptation to climate change impacts.”  (emphasis added)

CSW comment:

Such workshops formed the backbone of the National Assessment conducted under the Clinton Administration and completed in 2000 (now available on DVD); the manner in which they were conducted allowed for a robust set of dialogues that encouraged interdisciplinary thinking and approaches, and brought climate change science experts together with stakeholders and decisionmakers in such a way that a good deal of practical learning took place.  It is important to note that the federal government already has the authority to conduct periodic assessments, in almost precisely the way they are called for in this bill, under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.  We have no problem with updating or amending this law to give it more definition or to elevate the importance of these impacts assessments, but the crafters of this new legislation should be familiar with the history of the original National Assessment, including associated legal challenges and court opinions, and take care to design a system that brings to bear all of the relevant and appropriate resources across the federal government and in our universities and research institutions.   

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Federal agency Climate Change Adaptation Plans

Sec. 466 requires each of the federal agencies and departments represented on the Council to complete an agency climate change adaptation plan “detailing the agencyâ??s current and projected efforts to address the potential impacts of climate change on matters within the agencyâ??s jurisdiction,” for submittal to the President and Congress. 

CSW comment:
The bill’s requirements for each of the plans is right on target:  agencies are to consider climate change impacts and their probabilities, set priorities for building adaptive capacity; talk about how addressing climate impacts is being integrated into agency decisionmaking and budgets and how the agency is cooperating with other federal, state and local government entities, and so on.  This is all very good, and should be happening now.  To some extent, it already is.  Numerous authorization and appropriations bills are requiring similar activities.  We believe this exercise will be especially important for agencies and departments that have a strong influence on the market and our economy, but do not have an environmental mandate, such as the Department of Transportation.  Every major decision and program at the DOT should be considered in light of both the expected impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the myriad implications for transportation systems that climate change imposes.  For example, where do we need better evacuation routes?  How can we help reduce tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks?  Do we need to invest more heavily in light rail and other mass transportation systems?   

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National Climate Change Adaptation Fund

Sec. 467 establishes a National Climate Change Adaptation Fund in the US Treasury and authorizes appropriations in “such sums as may be necessary” for providing financial assistance to state, local, and tribal governments “for projects to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts.” 

CSW comment: 

This is also an excellent idea—state and local governments have been facing serious budget shortfalls and in some cases can barely maintain their current levels of basic services.  Coping with the hardships that climate disruption presents will only make their jobs harder.  The federal government has been accused by local leaders of being “AWOL” on the climate problem over the past decade.  However, we should not wait for additional appropriations to get started on many fronts.  For example, the billions of dollars going to states, cities, and towns as a result of the recently passed economic stimulus package should be used in a way that is commensurate with the climate threat.  For example, the many infrastructure projects we can expect to see—e.g. new and improved roads and bridges—should be designed and built with altered climate conditions in mind, and the need to minimize CO2 emissions wherever possible.  We are concerned about what seems to be a disconnect between this economic stimulus funding and considerations relating to climate disruption.  We encourage Chairman Waxman and Chairman Markey, and other members of the House and Senate, to conduct oversight on this matter, to help ensure that we do not inadvertently worsen even more the challenges we face. 

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Climate Change and Public Health

Sec. 471 addresses public health and climate change and declares:

“It is the policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State, tribal, and local governments, other concerned public and private organizations and citizens to use all practicable means and measuresâ?? (1) to assist the efforts of public health professionals, first responders, States, tribes, municipalities, and local communities to incorporate measures to adapt health systems to address impacts of climate change; (2) to encourage further research, interdisciplinary partnership, and collaboration between stake-holders to understand and monitor the health impacts of climate change, for preparedness activities, and for improvement of health care infrastructure; and (3) to encourage each and every American to learn about the impact of climate change on health.”

Sec. 472 then requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “promulgate a national strategy for mitigating the impacts of climate change on public health in the United States” within two years of passage of the Act, in consultation with the CDC, the EPA, NIH, NOAA, NASA, FEMA, Dept. of Agriculture, and other groups such as local governments and public health organizations.

CSW comment:

It’s about time!  A major initiative tackling the existing and potential risks to public health for which climate change is likely to act as a threat multiplier should begin immediately.  Our level of preparedness for these threats is inadequate.  Studies of our public health infrastructure indicate that public health officials and offices across the country are poorly informed and even more poorly equipped to deal with public health problems related to climate change.  It was only a year and a half ago that top White House officials redacted the major portion of the testimony of CDC Director Julie Gerberding addressing the major public health threats associated with climate change; and definitive studies linking CO2 emissions with impacts were routinely censored, suppressed, or marginalized by political appointees.  Now we have a new administration and new leadership, but we have not yet taken any real steps forward in terms of preparing ourselves for any number of problems.  More frequent and deadlier wildfires, outbreaks of pests, heat waves, water shortages, threats to water quality, and so on, need to be addressed head on, and an aggressive public education and preparedness effort begun. 

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Natural Resources Adaptation

This bill seems to create a separate, parallel set of programs and activities to take on the challenges associated with climate impacts on natural resources.  Subpart C of Part 1 is titled NATURAL RESOURCE ADAPTATION, and establishes an “integrated Federal program to assist natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.”  It establishes a formal Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Policy: 

“[I]t is the policy of the federal government, in cooperation with State and local governments, tribal organizations, and other interested stakeholders to use all practicable means and measures to assist natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.” 

The President is required to establish a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Panel whose Chair is the Chair of CEQ and whose members consist of the heads of various agencies and departments, which overlap but are fewer in number than those listed to be members of the Council established in Subpart A of Part 1.  The Chair is to advise the President on implementation and development of a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, as well as on natural resource agency adaptation plans required under Sec. 488.  The CEQ and Panel Chair is also charged with coordinating federal agency strategies, plans, programs, and activities related to assisting natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.  A Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Strategy is to be developed within two years of the Act’s enactment and updated every five years.  (See our companion post summarizing the provisions in the discussion draft for more detail.)

CSW comment:

What is the rationale for creating a separate set of requirements for natural resources and ocean acidification?  While we can see some logic here, we do not quite understand why a natural resources component to climate change impacts assessments, adaptation, and preparedness needs to be carved out and operated separately from the provisions in Subpart A of this bill.  It seems to us that the Council created in Subpart A and the Panel created in Subpart C might stumble over one another in their assigned tasks; there seems to be a good deal of overlap in the areas they are being asked to cover.  Without becoming overly prescriptive, we suggest the bill authors consider blending the provisions in Subpart C with those of Subpart A to create an overall adaptation program that has under its purview ecosystem health, human health, wildlife, natural resources, and oceans.  This would include the state plans required under both Subpart A and Subpart C; these efforts should be comprehensive and integrated.   

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Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Science and Information Program

Sec. 487 requires the heads of NOAA and USGS to establish a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Science and Information Program that would be implemented through the USGS National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center and counterpart programs at NOAA.  Its stated purposes would be “to provide technical assistance to Federal agencies, State and local governments, and tribal organizations in their efforts to assess the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on natural resources; to conduct and sponsor research and provide Federal agencies, State and local governments, and tribal organizations with research products, decision and monitoring tools and information, to develop strategies for assisting natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification; and to assist Federal agencies in the development of detailed agency and department specific adaptation plans.

CSW comment:

Again, why do we need a separate program, apart from the overall national adaptation program spelled out in Subpart A?  Couldn’t the functions defined here also be incorporated into a climate change impacts assessment program and a climate services program? 

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Ocean Acidification Impact Survey

The Secretaries of Commerce and Interior are required to undertake a climate change and ocean acidification impact survey that “identifies natural resources considered likely to be adversely affected by climate change and ocean acidification; includes baseline monitoring and ongoing trend analysis…; identifies and prioritizes needed monitoring and research…; and identifies decision tools necessary to develop strategies for assisting natural resources to become more resilient and adapt to and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

CSW comment:

Shouldn’t this ocean acidification survey be conducted as part of an overall Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerability Assessment activity that is ongoing and has periodic reporting requirements?

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Science Advisory Board

The Secretaries of Commerce and Interior are also required to establish a Science Advisory Board comprised of 10-20 members with the appropriate expertise and who represent a “balanced membership among Federal, State, and local representatives, universities, and conservation organizations;” half the members must be recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.  The SAB is to A) advise the Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Science and Information Program on “the state-of-the-science regarding the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on natural resources and scientific strategies and mechanisms for adaptation; and to identify and recommend priorities for ongoing research needs on such issues.”

CSW comment:

Creating a Science Advisory Board is appropriate.  There may be an overlap with existing science advisory bodies related to the USGCRP participating agencies, which should be reviewed.

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Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Fund

Sec. 490 establishes a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Fund within the US Treasury, and authorizes appropriations in sums as may be necessary.  (See companion post for details.)

CSW comment:

Again, why a separate fund from the one created in Subpart A?  Could there be one fund that incorporates some of the criteria stipulated in this section?  There are many cross-over issues that might best be considered and funded in a coordinated fashion rather than separately.

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International Climate Change Adaptation Program

Part 2 of Subtitle E creates an INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION PROGRAM, and presents a compelling set of findings to support the stated need to “to provide assistance from the United States to the most vulnerable developing countries in order to support the development and implementation of climate change adaptation programs and projects that reduce the vulnerability and increase the resilience of communities to climate change impacts including impacts upon water availability, agricultural productivity, flood risk, coastal resources, timing of seasons, biodiversity, economic livelihoods, health and diseases, and human migration;” and “to provide such assistance in a manner that promotes and protects the national security, foreign policy, environmental, and economic interests of the United States where such interests may be advanced by minimizing, averting, or increasing resilience to climate change impacts.”

The bill requires the Secretary of State, working with the Administrators of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US EPA, to establish an International Climate Change Adaptation Program within USAID, and authorizes the Program to “carry out activities and projects and make grants to any private or public group (including public international organizations), association, or other entity engaged in peaceful activities” and to focus most heavily on the most vulnerable developing countries. 

CSW comment:

We agree the US must reach out a helping hand to countries that face potential devastation in the wake of climate change impacts, and that doing so will also benefit US national security.  We recommend that existing authorities and programs at US AID and US EPA be closely evaluated to determine whether the best course of action is new legislation, or better oversight of the agencies operating under existing legislative and regulatory authority.  Both USAID and USEPA have been assisting other countries who are dealing with the climate change threat and other environmental threats for the past couple of decades. 

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We’d welcome additional comments on this bill from our readers; our email address for our National Climate Change Preparedness Initiative project is [redacted]


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