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Federal Government Is Failing on Climate Readiness, Watchdog Says

Federal Government Is Failing on Climate Readiness, Watchdog Says

A nonpartisan federal watchdog assailed the Trump administration’s response to climate change in a damaging new report that criticized President Trump’s reversal of environmental policies imposed by President Obama.

The Government Accountability Office, which has warned since 2013 about the nation’s exposure to the impacts of climate change, says the federal government is now failing to make any progress on improving climate resilience.

The GAO puts climate change on its high-risk list of vulnerabilities and poorly run federal programs that pose a significant threat to the public.

In the case of climate change, the threat is largely financial: Federal taxpayers have spent more than $450 billion on disaster aid since 2005—including $19 billion that Trump and Congress approved in June. Spending will grow as hurricanes, and flooding cause increasing damage.

The report released Friday features a significant downgrade from March, when the GAO said the government was some steps to protect the nation and federal taxpayers from the increasing damage caused by climate change.

“The federal government has made little measurable progress since 2017 to reduce its fiscal exposure to climate change,” the newest GAO report concludes.

The 72-page report never uses Trump’s name. But it criticizes two executive orders he signed, saying they weakened the federal effort to combat climate change and build resilience.

Trump’s highly publicized executive order in March 2017, which revoked an Obama order tightening environmental protection, reversed the federal government’s leadership on climate change, the GAO said (Climatewire, March 29, 2017.)

A Trump executive order signed in May 2018, which revoked another Obama environmental order, weakened the federal government’s ability to counter climate change by eliminating a requirement that federal agencies develop climate-resilience plans.

The result: The federal government now receives the worst grade in all five categories on which the GAO rates the government’s progress in reducing the nation’s exposure to climate change and in getting climate change off the high-risk list.

“We assessed the federal government’s progress since 2017 related to climate change … and found that the federal government had not met any of the criteria for removal from the high-risk list,” the GAO said.

In a report released Feb. 15, 2017, three weeks after Trump took office, the GAO said the federal government had partially met four of the five criteria and had not met the fifth.

In March, the GAO said the government had partially met three of the criteria while failing to meet two criteria.

The federal government has never fully met any of the five criteria since the GAO put climate change on its high-risk list in 2013.

The ongoing failures have left the federal government with a scattershot approach to building the nation’s climate resilience when it should be leading the effort by setting and helping pay for national climate goals, the GAO said.

“The federal government does not have a strategic federal approach for investing in the highest priority climate resilience projects,” the GAO said.

Federal agencies are pursuing their own strategies with “ad hoc funding for projects that may convey some climate resilience benefits,” the GAO said. But even with those efforts, “federal investment in projects specifically designed to enhance climate resilience to date has been limited.”

The GAO has urged the federal government since 2009 to better coordinate its effort to improve climate resilience. Its report amounts to a plea for federal leadership on climate change by setting goals for climate resilience, prioritizing and implementing projects and monitoring climate risks.

A good example of climate leadership occurred in after Hurricane Katrina, to the GAO.

In 2005, the state Legislature consolidated all of the disparate local planning entities into a single agency, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which took charge of identifying resilience projects to reduce flood risk and coastal land loss. The authority has published three coastal master plans evaluating potential projects. Its newest plan, published in 2017, identified $50 billion in high-priority projects to be done as funding becomes available.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news a twww.eenews.net.