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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Hearing on the Costs of Climate Change

Jun 11, 2019

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing on the costs of climate change and associated risks to the U.S. economy and the federal budget. Remarks as prepared are below:

Good morning, this hearing will come to order. I’d like to welcome everyone to the Budget Committee’s hearing on the impacts of climate change on our nation’s economy and federal budget. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today.

This is a hearing on the future of our country, covering a topic that we cannot afford to ignore. Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change. Homes have been blown away in hurricanes that are increasing in intensity or lost to wildfires that are spreading farther and taking longer to extinguish. Our farmers have endured prolonged droughts, while some states have experienced historic flooding.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October report warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, our atmosphere will continue to warm with dangerous consequences. In addition to more destructive storms, wildfires, and droughts, we will experience increasingly acidic oceans, a loss of wildlife, reduced air quality, increased disease exposure, and a drastic decrease in crop production – among other disasters that could permanently reshape our way of life.

Climate change is an environmental issue. It’s a public health issue. It’s a national security issue. And, as we’ll talk about today, it’s increasingly an economic and fiscal issue.

It is my hope that when faced with the data and the testimony of our esteemed witnesses, we can separate opinion from fact and acknowledge that as a governing body we must plan for the consequences of a changing climate if we are to avoid future catastrophe.

Last November, the Fourth National Climate Assessment Report was released, and it painted a dire picture for our future. It concluded that not only is the evidence of human-caused climate change overwhelming, its consequences are intensifying. If no mitigating action is taken, climate change will increasingly wreak havoc on the U.S. economy, human health, and the environment.

For example, between 2005 and 2014, we spent an average of $36 billion annually responding to extreme weather and fire events. But that level of spending looks tame compared to where we are headed. For 2018 alone, Congress appropriated more than $130 billion for disaster-related purposes – and all indications are that these costs will continue to dramatically rise in the years and decades ahead if no action is taken. Already billions of dollars of federal property and approximately half of all U.S. military sites are threatened by climate change. That’s not my assessment – that’s from the Pentagon’s initial vulnerability assessment report on “Climate-Related Risk to DoD Infrastructure.” Major assessments from the Climate Impact Lab and EPA’s Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis project also concluded that, if we continue business as usual with high emissions and limited resilience efforts, annual losses across multiple sectors of our economy could exceed $500 billion, or roughly three percent of national GDP, by the end of the century.

The global investment management company BlackRock estimates that the median risk of commercial properties being hit by a category 4 or 5 hurricane has increased by more than 135 percent since 1980. This increase could further rise to 275 percent by 2050, with major implications for commercial mortgage-backed securities. They also add that “Extreme weather events pose growing risks for the credit worthiness of state and local issuers in the $3.8 trillion U.S. municipal bond market.”

The only people who fail to understand the seriousness of climate change are the Trump Administration and some of our Republican colleagues.  If they are not moved by environmental, health and security consequences, I hope the economic costs and the impact on the federal budget will get their attention -- because we cannot afford to wait for them to catch-up. We can’t afford to be the only country that is not part of the historic Paris Climate Agreement. We can’t afford to have an Administration that continues to deny climate change and handicap the agencies and programs responsible for responding to it - making the problem far worse – and ultimately more costly.

It is our responsibility, as the Budget Committee, to review the issues that threaten our fiscal health and our constituents. Without serious action to address climate change, federal spending will continue to rise on everything from federal disaster response, to flood insurance, crop insurance, and federal facility preservation and repairs – not to mention the increased public health costs. I hope today’s hearing will help make clear that we must rejoin our global partners in tackling the threat of climate change and commit to substantial reductions in carbon pollution, meaningful investments in clean energy, and policies that strengthen our communities and prioritize the health and safety of current and future generations.

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