Senate should pass a climate bill with a comprehensive adaptation policy


Senators Baucus (D-MT) and Whitehouse (D-RI) submitted proposed climate legislation earlier this month that mirrors the Natural Resources Adaptation section in the House-passed Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill (H.R. 2454).  The broad coalition of environmental NGOs behind these provisions is well-organized, politically effective, and has put forth a solid proposal that should stand up to Congressional scrutiny.  However, it is imperative that any comprehensive climate and clean energy bill also include a more all-encompassing set of adaptation programs addressing all sectors—in addition to those included in the House bill. 

Post by Anne Polansky

An August 6 letter from Sens. Max Baucus and Sheldon Whitehouse to Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, talks about specific climate change impacts in Montana and Rhode Island, home states to the Senators, and asks that an attached legislative proposal be included in any Senate climate bill proposed next month.  “The draft language would establish planning requirements and identify specific federal and state programs through which natural resource adaptation would be undertaken,” the letter states, adding: “The proposed legislation would require the development of a coordinated national adaptation strategy and state-specific adaptation plans that would guide spending decisions to ensure these dedicated resources are utilized as effectively as possible.”

The Senators say that the proposal “has the support of the full community of sportsmen, conservation, and environmental groups.”  We understand that more than 20 different NGOs, several of them with large memberships, worked on the proposal for more than two years. 

The legislative proposal (there is no link to the language itself) is similar but not identical to the Natural Resources Adaptation section in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454).  The House bill also has a similar section dedicated to adaptation within the public health sector, and a program for distributing allowances to States with approved adaptation plans so they can build resiliency to climate change impacts.

The official House Energy and Commerce Committee bill summary for H.R. 2454 states:

From 2012 through 2021, 2% of allowances will be allocated to prepare the United States to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The amount of allowances allocated for domestic adaptation will increase to 4% from 2022 through 2026 and to 8% thereafter. Half of these allowances will be used for wildlife and natural resource protection and half for other domestic adaptation purposes, including public health.

The House bill also has a bold statement of national policy:

It is the policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, Indian tribes, and other interested stakeholders to use all practicable means and measures to protect, restore, and conserve natural resources to enable them to become more resilient, adapt to, and withstand the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification

Why not broaden this policy to include the built environment, infrastructure, energy and water systems, food production, and so on? 

The March 2009 “discussion draft”  (Sec. 461) of the Waxman-Markey bill included a more over-arching coordination structure and program for addressing climate impacts across all sectors, creating a National Climate Change Adaptation Program and an interagency Council, and would have established a National Climate Change Adaptation Fund.  While the provision gave more authority to NOAA than should be the case, it was a good start toward acknowledging that the United States must take the larger view when looking at the myriad ways climate change could disrupt almost every aspect of society.  The US Senate should incorporate this perspective in drafting and debating climate legislation.

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