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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Second Budget Hearing Examining the Costs and Impacts of Climate Change

Jul 24, 2019

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing examining the costs and economic impacts of climate change on specific sectors such as agriculture, public health, and national defense. Remarks as prepared are below:

Today, is a pretty intense day for Congress. Two buildings over our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee are looking into how the president defied the laws of our country. Here, we’re looking into how he and his Administration continue to defy the laws of nature and the cost of that threat to the habitability of our entire planet. That’s a pretty important undercard if you ask me.

And that’s because every day that we wait to combat climate change, the potential impacts on our budget, our economy, our security, and our communities compound. We know that the economic costs of climate change will be significant and far-reaching, but to understand how these costs will affect American life and our fiscal situation, we must look deeper. Today we will hear from experts on the looming threat of climate change to our coastal communities, agricultural economies, public health, and national security – and the implications for the federal budget.

The devastating effects of climate change are already upon us: families have lost their homes to record storms and raging wildfires and lost loved ones to sicknesses stemming from heatwaves and degraded air quality. Our farmers are grappling with changing growing seasons and declining crop yields, while approximately half of all U.S. military sites – and two-thirds of the most critical installations – are threatened by climate change. Without serious action, climate-related federal spending will continue to rise, and American families will not only have to grapple with the effects of climate change, they will have to foot the bill for the spiraling costs.

By neglecting this crisis, we are putting our coastal communities and millions of people at risk. Since 2016, more than 3,400 Americans have been killed by hurricanes, severe storms, and flooding. Homes, businesses, and infrastructure on our coasts are facing more extreme natural disasters. Already, eight out of nine U.S. real estate companies are citing operational risks and costs from flooding and hurricanes in their environmental disclosures. As the risk of being hit by a category 4 of 5 hurricane continues to grow, U.S. military facilities along the coast are vulnerable as well, threatening our military and defense readiness.

In the heartland, farmers are facing declining crop yields and increasingly hostile growing environments. As the climate warms and rainfall patterns change, the soil is eroding, floods and droughts are becoming more common, and the threats of heat-stress, diseases, and pests to plants and livestock are exacerbated. Farm incomes are already down almost 50 percent from 2013 and over the next three decades, our agricultural economy could see an annual productivity drop of more than 4 percent from complications related to climate change. With our farms under siege at home and demand growing worldwide, American families will find it more expensive – and more difficult – to put food on the table.

As pretty much anyone in this room can attest, July 2019 is on pace to be hottest month ever recorded, with heat advisories and health warnings cautioning us to protect ourselves and our families against scorching temperatures. These dangerous heatwaves are predicted to become more frequent in the years ahead, posing a severe threat to our population’s most vulnerable. By 2050, more than 90 million Americans – a 100-fold increase – will experience a month or more of temperatures indexing above 105 degrees in an average year. Heatstroke, respiratory illnesses, and heart attacks could kill thousands more every year, and more people will be exposed to infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitos and ticks, such as West Nile, Zika and Lyme disease, as the insects spread across broader areas of the United States.

But the United States will not suffer in isolation – countries across the world will experience similar challenges, many to an even greater degree. Even before the President pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, cautioned that climate change is “a driver of instability” with the potential to upend the international arena. Around the world, populations will experience greater food and water insecurity, more infectious disease outbreaks, worsening natural disasters, and other threat multipliers. This in turn will heighten the risk of social unrest, political instability, and conflict abroad – with the potential to jeopardize our national security, compromise our defense readiness, and increase the cost and complexity of future missions and humanitarian efforts.

But this future, as bleak as it is, does not have to come to fruition. As our witnesses will testify, we can reduce carbon pollution and make meaningful investments in our health and safety. Thankfully, the deal reached earlier this week to raise the budget caps will empower Congress to continue making critical investments in clean energy and resilience, while avoiding potentially damaging fiscal and environmental impacts of the sequester. And it is my hope that this hearing will enable Congress to better prepare for the wide-ranging impacts of a changing climate.

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