Obama launches adaptation task force, orders agencies to bolster planning

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, November 4, 2013

President Obama ordered the creation today of a high-level task force aimed at bolstering the roles of state and local governments in national preparation for the impacts of climate change.

Obama’s executive order launches a 24-member task force including the governors of seven states and Guam and 18 officials from local and tribal governments.

The panel will identify opportunities for “removing barriers to resilient investments, modernizing federal grant and loan programs to better support local efforts, and developing the information and tools they need to prepare,” the White House said.

The task force includes Democratic Govs. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, Jerry Brown of California, Jay Inslee of Washington, Jack Markell of Delaware, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Pat Quinn of Illinois and Peter Shumlin of Vermont. The lone Republican is Gov. Eddie Calvo of Guam. Of that group, only the governors of Hawaii and Guam lead states that haven’t participated in a regional greenhouse gas reduction program.

An administration official said the White House selected the governors after receiving recommendations from a variety of sources, including the National Governors Association.

In a statement, the White House said task force members are well-positioned to advise the administration because they have seen firsthand the effects of climate change. Many are responding by “updating building codes, adjusting the way they manage natural resources, investing in more resilient infrastructure, and planning for rapid recovery from damages that nonetheless occur,” it said.

Obama also issued an executive order directing federal agencies to review policies and practices to improve preparation for the floods, wildfires and other effects that scientists say will become more frequent as a result of man-made greenhouse gases already in the Earth’s atmosphere. The directive builds on the climate change adaptation plans all federal agencies were required to produce in Obama’s first term.

The order requires agencies to look for outdated policies that discourage climate adaptation — “for example, policies that encourage communities to rebuild to past standards after disasters instead of to stronger standards” — and to update resource management plans to reflect anticipated changes in weather patterns.

Agencies are also required to look for new ways to provide information to state and local governments to help with their planning and to develop strategies to mitigate climate risks to their own operations.

The order tracks with the goal Obama announced last June as part of his Climate Action Plan to boost adaptation efforts while taking steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions domestically and internationally.

Environmentalists rushed to praise the White House. “Coming on the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, the president’s order could not be more timely,” Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. “This also is a call for action by state and local governments, as well by businesses and individuals.”

“We must all work together to address the greatest environmental challenge of our time,” she added.

Center for American Progress senior fellow Daniel Weiss said in a statement that adaptation measures could save lives and reduce the cost of responding to increased extreme weather events.

“Every $1 invested in community resilience will reduce disaster damages by $4,” he said.