New FEMA Guidelines Force the Climate Change Issue

By | March 26, 2015

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making some waves with a new requirement that forces states to take into account the possible impact of climate change in their risk assessments before they can receive certain assistance.

FEMA included this condition in an update this month to the State Mitigation Plan Review Guide, FEMA’s official policy on and interpretation of the natural hazard mitigation planning requirements.

FEMA said its updated guidelines for disaster planning don’t impact relief funding for natural disasters, such as hurricanes or flooding.

“State risk assessments must be current, relevant, and include new hazard data, such as recent events, current probability data, loss estimation models, or new flood studies as well as information from local and tribal mitigation plans, as applicable, and consideration of changing environmental or climate conditions that may affect and influence the long-term vulnerability from hazards in the state,” the guidelines state. “FEMA recognizes there exists inherent uncertainty about future conditions and will work with states to identify tools and approaches that enable decision-making to reduce risks and increase resilience from a changing climate.”

This has the effect of forcing state governments to acknowledge the risks of man-made global warming.

The guidelines made a splash, and they were not well received by all.

Following FEMA’s update of its guidelines earlier this month the media offered various interpretations of what that means.

“FEMA targets climate change skeptic governors, could withhold funding,” read a headline in the Washington Times.

Among the GOP governors who could face a difficult decision are Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Pat McCrory of North Carolina and Greg Abbott of Texas,” the article states.

Scott is under fire for allegedly banning the phrase “climate change” in at least one of the state’s departments. He has denied doing this, but efforts are underway to investigate whether this is true.

“FEMA To Deny Funding To States Without Global Warming Plans,” states a headline in The Daily Caller.

Louisiana Gov. Jindal in a follow-up story in the Washington Times blasted the new rule that he said would make it difficult for governors like him who are skeptical of man-made climate change to obtain federal money to prepare for emergencies like floods and hurricanes.

“This preparation saves lives,” Jindal said in a statement to the paper. “The White House should not use it for political leverage to force acquiescence to their left-wing ideology.”

All this buzz has FEMA spokeswoman Susan Hendrick too busy to respond individually to myriad queries from reporters, so instead she was emailing an official statement.

“Floods damage our public health and safety and property, as well as our economic prosperity,” she said in the statement. “Between 1980 and 2013, the United States suffered more than $260 billion in flood-related damages. The costs borne on the federal government are more than any other hazard. On average, more people die annually from flooding than any other natural hazard. Furthermore, with climate change, we anticipate that flooding risks will increase over time.”

In her response Hendrick said that the purpose of funding mitigation planning is for state, tribal and local governments to assess risks from natural hazards, then develop a strategy to reduce vulnerabilities and establish processes to implement the actions.

The guide goes into effect on March 6, 2016, for all state mitigation plans submitted to FEMA for review and approval.

Hendrick cited statements by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in a White House blog as a good explanation of the new guidelines.

“As Administrator Fugate has said, rising sea levels, higher average temperatures, higher ocean temperatures, and other effects of climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent and more severe,” Hendrick wrote in her email statement. “Earlier this year, NASA and NOAA announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record globally, meaning that 14 of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have happened this century. That’s why when the federal government invested billions to help communities rebuild from Hurricane Sandy, we also committed to ‘build back better’ and more resilient – to rebuild infrastructure to a higher standard so it can withstand the increased risks posed by sea level rise and other climate impacts.”

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