3 governors tell their peers to prepare for climate change

Source: By Thomas Frank, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, February 10, 2020

Three governors, including California’s Gavin Newsom, outlined the vastly different approaches they are taking to prepare for climate change as they urged colleagues yesterday at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting to improve their states’ resilience.

As the Democratic governor noted California’s struggles to contain growth in wildfire-prone areas, one counterpart promoted the use of technology to improve disaster response and another urged officials to cut state emissions.

“Mitigation is the best adaptation strategy,” Gov. Janet Mills of Maine told fellow governors who gathered in Washington, as she described her state’s numerous efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Maine state government is paying rebates to people who buy electric vehicles, promoting wind power and building stronger culverts to control water runoff from roads, said Mills, a Democrat who took office in January 2019.

Maine already is experiencing the effects of climate change, Mills said.

Sea-level rise has tripled the amount of flooding in Portland, the state’s largest city, in recent years and has threatened to devour up to 10% of some of the state’s developed coastal islands. The Gulf of Maine, home to the state’s lucrative lobster industry, is warming “faster than 95% of all ocean bodies,” Mills told fellow governors.

“The cost of avoiding the worst of climate change’s impact is far lower than the cost of not adapting,” Mills said.

Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota said his state is trying to use technology to expand the collection of data. That includes water levels on streams that aren’t monitored and weather information to help state officials decide which roads to shut down in anticipation of hazardous conditions.

“We’re closing roads sometimes based on weather reports. If we had automatically collected data, we could be more precise about which roads we close,” said Burgum, a Republican who took office in December 2016.

Governors should look more to technology to improve climate resilience instead of regulations, which can take years to enact and implement, Burgum said.

“We tend to lean hard on regulation when there’s a problem,” Burgum said. “There are [technological] solutions that couldn’t be imagined.”

Newsom has gained a high profile for California’s numerous efforts to reduce emissions and its handling of major wildfires from 2017 through 2019.

“If any of you still don’t believe in climate change, come to California,” Newsom said. “The hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier, the wets are getting wetter.”

One of the biggest challenges in California is discouraging development in regions known as wildland-urban interface areas, where wildfires can cause catastrophic damage to communities.

“The stubbornness on land use is difficult,” said Newsom, referring to municipalities that continue to allow development in areas that are at risk of wildfires. “I see master plans with development in the middle of these areas and think, what the hell are these guys doing?”

The 11 million Californians living in these regions are struggling to maintain homeowners’ insurance as insurers decline to renew policies or sharply raise premiums, Newsom said.

Before the three governors spoke yesterday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the governors conference that she was optimistic about reaching an agreement with the Trump administration on infrastructure spending.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is expected to meet tomorrow with House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) in the latest meeting between the two.

House Democrats are pushing a massive, multiyear infrastructure package that would prioritize climate change and provide major new funding for public transit, clean energy, drinking water and broadband.

“They’re going to be meeting about what the possibilities are,” Pelosi said of an infrastructure bill. “It is really honestly within range. … It’s going to be a compromise. It’s a negotiation.”