Senate Hearing Calls Attention to the Need to Prepare for Extreme Weather

February 13, 2014

As communities across the country prepare for and recover from winter storms, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing on the costs of extreme weather events.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the committee, welcomed two panels of experts to the Capitol on Feb. 12 to discuss ways the federal government can prepare for (and encourage states, communities, and private property owners to prepare for) the impacts of climate change and extreme weather.

There was universal agreement among committee members and panelists that extreme weather presents a significant financial risk to the federal government, state and local governments, and private property owners.

This reality was illustrated by the addition of climate change risks to the GAO's High Risk List in 2013. Members expressed a number of ideas for reducing this risk, including directly addressing climate change by reducing emissions and preparing for impacts as well as continued reform of the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure that flood risk is priced appropriately.

Both Sens. Carper and Johnson (R-WI) and most panelists agreed that the recent Senate efforts to roll back the reforms included in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 were counterproductive.

Panelists David Heyman and Caitlin Durkovich of the Department of Homeland Security reported on DHS¹ efforts to support states and localities in improving the resilience of private property and public infrastructure. Assistant Secretary Heyman cited the Resilience Star pilot project as an opportunity to use private market pressure to encourage the design and construction of homes that are safer than current building codes require.

Collin O¹Mara, Secretary of Environment and Energy for the State of Delaware, provided recommendations to the committee based on his experience helping a state prepare for the impacts of climate change. He also cited the value of work produced by the Georgetown Climate Center in identifying vulnerabilities and adopting
adaptation strategies.

The hearing highlighted the importance of preparing for the impacts of climate change and extreme weather.

Paul Kirshen of the University of New Hampshire cited research demonstrating that preparing for climate impacts rewards each dollar spent with 6-30 dollars in avoided costs. Lindene Patton, representing the Zurich insurance group, concurred and encouraged the committee to prioritize investing in resilience in order to avoid increasing disaster recovery costs. Participants agreed that the federal government must safeguard public assets as well as provide necessary resources to state and local governments and appropriate incentives to private citizens.