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The Hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works - US Readiness for Extreme Weather

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington DC

Thank you for holding this hearing, Madam Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to come together today to talk about such a critical, timely issue.

Climate change is upon us; it is real. This year, the United States has seen increased numbers of major, deadly storms that are devastating our communities. We have seen major wildfires not only in the west, but also in the plains states. We are experiencing a drought that is right now affecting 60% of the country and is predicted to cause food prices to rise.

The time to act -- to harden our infrastructure against extreme heat, to strengthen our electrical grid, to prepare our public health infrastructure and to protect our coastal zones and low-lying areas is now. Today we will hear not only from the scientists who will explain to us the data showing how our climate is changing. We will then hear from a second panel of policy makers and experts who will tell us what efforts will be needed, and what projects are already underway, to protect our communities from the new normal brought on by climate change. I am pleased to be co-chairing this second panel focusing on climate adaptation.

Unfortunately, we are already seeing these problems happening. Just last month, Washington D.C. hit 95 degrees or higher for eleven straight days--the longest consecutive streak on record. This streak coincided with a devastating multi-day power outage that crippled the Washington area last month. In my home state of Maryland, hundreds of thousands of folks were without power for days, and were forced to contend with extreme heat without air-conditioning.

The extreme weather that Marylanders have had to deal with this year is just a continuation of the weather emergencies that folks across the country were faced with last year. The Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently wrote that last year, and I quote: "fourteen extreme weather-related events caused an incalculable loss of human life and cost the U.S. economy more than $55 billion."

The extreme weather of 2011 has continued into this year not only with strong storms and intense heat, but with a dangerous and deadly wildfire season in the American west. A brutal heat wave in late June fueled the Waldo Canyon Fire just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. This fire forced the evacuation of more than 32,000 residents, engulfed almost 350 homes, almost forced an evacuation of the United States Air Force Academy, and tragically killed two people.

Madam Chairman, these extreme weather events and increased temperatures are not theoretical. They are happening to us right now. When those of us in this hearing room leave the building today, we will be walking into one of the worst sustained heat waves on record for this area. These extremes are the new normal, and they are affecting our nation's infrastructure, our environment, and our public health and safety. It is time that we get serious about adapting our infrastructure and systems to these new conditions.

From our transportation infrastructure to our water systems to our public utilities, major systems are being negatively impacted by heat and storms. Last month at Washington Reagan National Airport, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in on the tarmac when temperatures over 100 degrees melted the asphalt. There was a DC Metro train derailment just up the road last month after tracks buckled in the extreme heat. I know many of those in attendance today probably took Metro to get here, so you understand what I mean when I say that these issues are causing public safety concerns right now, today.

The extreme derecho storm system that devastated the Maryland/Virginia/DC area last month left thousands and thousands of people out of power for a week during a severe heat wave. This is a public health issue and a public safety issue. As a result, Governor O'Malley of Maryland has ordered a special task force to specifically examine solutions for adapting its utility infrastructure to extreme heat and major storms.

Our water infrastructure, already in desperate need of repair, is also at risk from climate change impacts. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress that adapting to changing hydrological conditions caused by climate change is a "significant issue" that water systems must act to address. These hydrological changes will likely result in "too little water in some places, too much water in other places, and degraded water quality" in other areas across the country.

According to a study by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the costs in dealing with this new recognized problem could approach $1 trillion through 2050.

In fact I am the sponsor of a bill, the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act, to equip our communities to adapt their water systems to these changing conditions. I am proud that Chairman Boxer is an original cosponsor of that bill, and given the information we will hear today about our country's adaptation needs, I am going to continue to press forward with this effort to provide necessary resources to communities.

I believe that I have a responsibility to the people of Maryland and to the people of this country, to do all that I can to help prepare us for the consequences of climate change. We need to adapt our water infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure, and our electrical grid. We need to help our farmers to adapt so that our food supply -- and that of the world -- remains reliable. We need to adapt our coastal regions and prepare for the sea-level rise that is already beginning to threaten some of our coastal communities. We need to improve our public health infrastructure to deal with the heat-related illnesses that result from these extreme temperatures. In short, we need to act now to protect our communities.

I look forward to hearing from our diverse panel of speakers on the latest climate change science and the ongoing local efforts to adapt to the consequences of climate change.


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