By Jake Assael
President-Elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Myron Ebell, a vocal climate change denier, to lead his EPA Transition team, has just been the latest affirmation of his views on anthropogenic climate change. During his campaign he had claimed that global warming was a hoax purported by the Chinese, vowed to rescind U.S. involvement in the U.N Climate Agreement, and wanted to drastically increase oil, coal, and natural gas production. His rhetoric and actions leave a grim hope on immediate climate action by the incoming administration, and open the U.S. to the full impacts of climate change, most namely sea level rise.
Sea level rise is the gravest threat to U.S. coastal counties which comprise 45% of the Nation’s GDP, 39% of the Nation’s population, and generate $344 Billion dollars in federal tax revenue. As it has been made clear that the president-elect has no intention of mitigating Sea Level Rise, we turn our attention to the recently elected Senators who could potentially be strong proponents of climate change, protecting our valuable coasts, and revitalizing our crumbling water infrastructure.
Kamala Harris (CA-D)
California, is on the front lines of sea level rise, threatening 85 percent of the state’s GDP, 73 percent of its population, and 24 percent of its land area. Sea level rise has proved to be an imminent threat to economic metropolis San Francisco forcing the state to take preventive measures, including a property tax to restore 30,000 miles of coastal wetlands.
Senator-elect Harris, the former California Attorney General, has made a pledge to fight to increase investments to the, “crumbling,” water infrastructure, “improving coastal water systems.” Water infrastructure, along with all of America’s infrastructure is underfunded, and has left American’s vulnerable to sea level rise, and costly flood damage. Her pledge is an indication of increasing the Army Corps of Engineers budget, which is tasked with maintaining America’s water infrastructure. The newly elected Senator might have a more immediate chance on making good of her pledge as the 2016 Water Resources Development Act— the bill that gives the Army Corps its marching orders— is in a precarious position as we near the end of the lame duck session, and may not pass until she takes office in the 115th Congress as WRDA ‘17. Passing WRDA would authorize projects across the country that would improve coastal restoration, waterway maintenance, and vital water infrastructure. This can also be seen as a point of common ground with a pro-infrastructure President Trump.
The Senator-Elect also vowed to help implement a federal renewable energy standard for electricity, increase investments in clean energy, and protect President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. These policies would all help reduce our dependence on carbon intensive energy, reduce emissions, and slow the rise of the sea levels, thus protecting the coasts.
Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
Despite a much smaller land area of coastal counties (11.9 percent) than California, sea level rise, and coastal erosion have become important issues in the sand starved state. The state relies heavily on its coastal counties as they produce 29.7 percent of the state’s employment, 30.4 percent of its GDP, and are home to a third of the population.
While serving as Governor of New Hampshire, Senator-elect Hassan signed into law two bills that helped bolster coastal research and protection in New Hampshire. In May of this year, Senator-elect Hassan passed State Senate Bill 375 establishing the Coastal Marine Natural Resources and Environment Commission, which was created to protect coastal and Great Bay ecosystems. In 2013 she also signed into law state Senate Bill 163, establishing a commission to recommend legislation to prepare for projected sea level rise and other coastal watershed hazards. Hassan also passed Senate Bill 164 shortly after which authorized municipalities to include projected property loss due to storm surge and flooding in their master plans. Maggie Hassan during her time in the New Hampshire State Senate she sponsored the legislation that allowed New Hampshire to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The combination of her forward-thinking steps on coastal resilience as well as a track record in emissions reduction, could make the future Senator a strong ally in protecting our shores, slowing down the effects of sea level rise.
Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
Despite coastal counties only comprising of 2.5 percent of Illinois land area, they generate 54.7 percent of wages, 56.5 percent of the GDP, and are home to 46.2 percent of the population. Bordering Lake Michigan, Illinois coastal counties have seen rapidly eroding shores, depleting beaches, threatening coastal metropolis, Chicago.
Senator-elect Duckworth currently serves a Congresswoman for Illinois 8th district, finishing her second term, and has co-sponsored several bills relating to improving water infrastructure and protecting the Great Lakes coasts. As a part of the 114th congress Congresswoman Duckworth co-sponsored the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act of 2015 (HR 3337). The act, which was introduced in the House, would make the Bank’s Board of Directors responsible for monitoring and overseeing energy, environmental, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure projects. Also during the current term Congresswoman Duckworth co-sponsored Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) Act of 2016 (HR 223). Currently waiting Senate approval, the 2016 GLRI would prioritize and carry out programs and projects that protect and restore near-shore health, as well as protecting and restoring coastal wildlife and habitat. The Senator-elect might lack a strong coastal portfolio, but the precedent for her to act on both infrastructure and coastal improvement is there.
Marco Rubio (FL-R)
After successfully seeking re-election, Senator Rubio could be the right wing champion of our sinking coasts and crumbling infrastructure. Miami Beach Florida is considered ground-zero for climate change in America, as it has seen frequent sunny day floods, and is constantly reshaping its infrastructure and policies to adapt to the rising seas that are threatening its vibrant economy, and bustling population. Florida leans heavily on its coastal counties as they produce 73 percent of state employment, 73.5 percent of wages, and 77.1 percent of Florida’s GDP.
Senator Rubio was an outspoken advocate for the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, stumping on three Florida based provisions in the bill that include the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), Rubio’s proposed Assessing Coastal Areas to Assist States Act (S. 3228), which would authorize the Army Corps to perform assessments of coastlines within the South Atlantic Division, and the authorization of a study for a new shore protection project in Daytona Beach.
As sea level rise becomes more apparent and dangerous, Florida’s economy will suffer. This puts Senator Rubio in a position to be a champion of coastal resilience, as well as a potential ally to the incoming Democrats listed above. At a time of intense polarization on sea level rise and climate change, Senator Rubio could provide the bridge that Democrats and Republicans have all but let crumble.
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