Wednesday, March 5, 2014
by Dean Scott
March 4 — President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget request calls for a new $1 billion climate resilience fund, which the president first announced in February to help coastal areas and other regions prepare for severe storms, drought and other weather events that could be intensified by climate change.
The new fund is included in a broader $56 billion Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative proposed by the administration, which is evenly split between an array of defense and nondefense programs designed to boost research spending and boost growth. The $1 billion would be spread across multiple agencies and departments.
"Climate change is a fact, and we have to act with more urgency to address it because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods,” Obama wrote in his message to Congress in the budget released March 4.
Obama announced plans for the new climate fund during a visit to California in mid-February where he highlighted federal drought assistance efforts.
The resilience fund “expands on existing climate-change preparedness programs to ensure we are doing everything we can to support the safety and security of our communities and resources” and would “augment” climate adaptation planning by states, local communities, and tribes to help them better prepare for wildfire, floods or other disasters “that could be exacerbated by climate change,” John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Michael Boots, acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security, said in a March 4 blog post.
The president, in remarks delivered March 4 at a Washington, D.C., elementary school, said his proposal calls for more preparation for severe weather and other changes, including more severe wildfires, because “we know that future generations will continue to deal with the effects of a warming planet.”
The $1 billion in climate resilience spending will help fund “new technologies to help communities prepare for a changing climate today, and set up incentives to build smarter and more resilient infrastructure,” Obama said.
Environmental groups hailed the $1 billion climate fund request. Angela Anderson, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' climate and energy program, said Obama “is confronting members of Congress with a reality they need to face: climate change is already hurting us economically” as evidenced by increased coastal flooding, wildfire, and declining water resources, she said, all of which have been exacerbated by climate change.
But Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's top Republican, said the $1 billion funding request is indicative of a “status quo budget that further wastes taxpayer dollars.”
Grant Support for Interior, NOAA, EPA
The $1 billion fund would support grants at the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve coastal resilience to severe weather events and changing ocean conditions. But the Environmental Protection Agency also would receive some of that amount, including $10 million for protecting and enhancing coastal wetlands and $4 million to support urban forest enhancement and protection.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, within the Department of Homeland Security, would receive $400 million in fiscal 2015 from the fund to support climate change adaptation planning and pilot projects in cities and communities. DHS also would be provided $10 million to identify critical facilities in states or sectors and analyze their ability to remain functional after disasters. Additional funding would be provided to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for supporting state and community efforts to strengthen building-code requirements to address the risk of wildfires.
The fund also would support research in various agencies to improve understanding of and preparation for climate impacts, including new sea-level rise analyses and sector-specific data to inform transportation projects and public-health initiatives and research and development for distributed renewable generation and microgrids, which can help communities keep the lights on during weather disasters. The fund also would go toward new partnerships with the private sector to build climate-resilient infrastructure.
Overall U.S. climate funding, like the new climate resilience fund, also has traditionally been spread across an array of federal agencies and departments—including the departments of Commerce, Energy and Agriculture, as well as the EPA, which is developing regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and heavy-duty trucks. The State Department oversees much of the international climate funding, including U.S. support of low-carbon projects in developing countries and U.S. participation in international climate negotiations.
EPA Personnel 'Realigned.'
The president's fiscal 2015 budget is his first to assign dollars to his broad climate action plan, which Obama unveiled in June 2013 as a laundry list of actions he is pursuing in lieu of congressional action on climate, including EPA's development of the power plant rules.
To implement the climate action plan, EPA's fiscal 2015 budget request calls for “realigning” $10 million and the equivalent of 24 full-time EPA employees to enhance education and outreach and to “foster state engagement and partnership” according to the budget. The administration has acknowledged that cooperation between EPA and states will become particularly important as the EPA works to complete its rules for existing power plants—which will be implemented by the states—by Obama's deadline of June 1, 2015.
States will have to submit their implementation plans under the president's time line by the end of June 2016.
The realignment of those resources “will support the development of GHG standards, regulations, or guidelines, as appropriate, for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants,” according to EPA's budget request. “This will require extensive engagement with the states as they develop and implement their plans.”
The shift in resources also will help EPA's implementation of other Obama climate action plan initiatives, from reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a “super” pollutant that has a much more significant impact on warming the planet than carbon dioxide, to overseeing a new interagency strategy that seeks to curb methane emissions.
Within the State Department's $40.3 billion fiscal 2015 request are an array of international climate funds, although in some faces, funding there would remain relatively flat or even decline slightly.
Obama is requesting $201 million for the State Department's Clean Technology Fund, which helps leverage private funding for low-carbon projects in developing nations, down slightly from the $217 million level enacted for fiscal 2014. To receive funding, developing nations must develop national investment plans that identify how projects could reduce emissions.
Similarly, Obama's $63 million funding request for the State Department's Strategic Climate Fund, which covers three assistance programs including one to help developing nations most vulnerable to climate impacts, is slightly down from fiscal 2014 enacted level of $68 million.
Meanwhile, funding would remain relatively flat for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates reach across various federal agencies on climate change and other issues. The president's fiscal 2015 budget request includes about $2.5 billion for the research program, slightly below his FY 2014 request of $2.65 billion.
The USGCRP's precise fiscal 2014 funding level enacted by Congress is unknown until the global change program provides its annual report to Congress in the spring.
Andrea Vittorio also contributed to this blog post @avittorio
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