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Commemorating the 1-Year Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HOLT. I thank my friend from New York (Mr. Tonko) for arranging this discussion.

It is well worth recognizing the anniversary of this devastating storm because it might be said this was a storm like we have never seen before. That may be true, but I don't think it is correct to say this is a storm such as we will never see again.

A year ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey and much of the east coast. The storm may have faded from the headlines, but New Jerseyans haven't forgotten. It is felt in a very personal and painful way by thousands and thousands of New Jerseyans still today.

These New Jerseyans are not alone. I mean that in two senses. First, we can hear from some who are representative of the millions. But also, when we hear from the younger New Jerseyans who are affected, we understand that they represent the future that will be affected by climate change. Quite simply, superstorms like Sandy are the new normal, and we had better get used to it, even if climate change skeptics claim otherwise.

I think response to Sandy means, of course, tending to the human needs of those who have been victims of the storm, but it also means making significant investments in power engineering and transportation engineering and rail engineering and wireless engineering and shoreline engineering and river flood control engineering and residential planning, and taking steps to deal with the root cause of what we see.

We may not be able to stop hurricanes in their tracks. In fact, we certainly can't. But we can make sure that our infrastructure and our environment and our communities are more resilient when they strike, and if we work hard as a Nation and as humanity, we may be able to stem the climate change that will result in more and more powerful superstorms.

I know some in Washington are skeptical of the role of the Federal Government in fighting climate change, but as Sandy's $83 billion pricetag should make clear, society, our economy, yes, and our government will bear the costs of climate change one way or another. If we make the investments today, as the debts are coming due, we would do far better than to wait to pick up the pieces after other superstorms hit.

I will be happy, as we go along, to talk about some specific New Jerseyans who were affected. I will be happy to talk about some of the science that suggests where we are as a world. Mostly, I just want to make the point that this is the new normal that we should be prepared for.


Mr. HOLT. Some of the repair has taken place, but the recovery takes a very long time.

Today, three New Jerseyans came to visit me.

One, Eric, from Jersey City, had been ready to open his bakery with his wife when Sandy hit. The bakery was flooded by 6 feet of water, and a lot of equipment was damaged. It delayed until fairly recently the opening of that bakery, and of course there was the loss of income to that family.

Norma, from Seaside Park, was displaced by severe flooding, nearly 4 feet. We can talk about the depth of the storm surge or about the record low barometric pressure or what the wind speed was, but we mustn't lose sight of the people who were affected here. Norma had space in her home that was flooded, and so she lost the rental income for that space. She is still cleaning up. Incidentally, she is a science supervisor at a local school, and is now talking personally about climate change and extreme weather.

April, from Jersey City, is a single mother of a child with asthma, who was uprooted because of the flooding from Sandy. She is now dealing with mold issues in her child's school as a result of the flooding, and she has gotten involved in helping low-income families recover from Sandy.

I want to make this point about who is hurt the most.

Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey looked at families who are employed but who are struggling. These would be asset-limited people, people who are barely earning a living. This makes up, really, about a third of New Jerseyans. They have no cushion. Yet about a third of New Jerseyans incurred more than half of the residential damage--the cost--and are obtaining only slightly more than a quarter of the resources that are available for rebuilding. So low-income families, who tend to have less safe, less resilient housing, are the ones who suffer the most damage. Many who work hourly jobs are less able to deal with the loss of wages that occur from these disasters. Many of them were underinsured, and about 90 percent did not have flood insurance. So it is only a fraction of the people in New Jersey, but it is a very large fraction of the people, who suffered the really severe damage.

As bad as this is in America, the effects of climate change are even worse in developing countries around the world. Developing nations are more vulnerable to crop failure. Tropical diseases are very sensitive to climate change. Malaria and dengue fever and diarrheal disease are more prevalent now because of climate change, and developing nations are less able to afford the damage that results.

I got in some trouble earlier this year--I was challenged earlier this year--when I said we have got to deal with climate change or millions will die. In fact, I looked it up. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change is already causing 140,000 deaths per year--more than would have occurred without the climate change--primarily in developing countries. So it doesn't take very many years before, indeed, millions are dying. That is something of the human cost of what we are talking about.


Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I want to make sure that all of our colleagues understand that when my friend from New York talks in detail about new energy systems that he is talking about human welfare, that he is talking about addressing the human cost that we were speaking of earlier. In other words, it is not just a matter of providing energy for people to power our economy and provide comfortable daily lives; it is also a matter of doing it in a way that avoids this enormous human cost from climate change. The way we produce and use energy is the greatest insult to our planet. It is changing our very climate, and we must address that. The sooner we address it, the more effective we will be at addressing it, and the more of these costs we can avoid.

It is unmistakable, unequivocal, that global warming has taken place and is taking place. Just in the past month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came out with its fifth very carefully prepared report. It says that global temperatures are likely to rise from a third of a degree to 4 1/2 degrees, roughly, Celsius, and that sea levels will rise. It is certain that the upper ocean has already warmed over the last three decades. It is certain that the upper ocean has already absorbed carbon dioxide, making it more acidic, as we heard from our friends earlier.

Most of the aspects of climate change will continue for centuries with the result in a cost in lives and dollars if the CO

2 emissions are not brought under control. In fact, some of these costs will be incurred now even if we bring CO

2 emissions under control because of the damage already done, but it is important to emphasize that it comes down to the human cost. That is what we mustn't forget in all of the charts and graphs and scientific discussions of the causes and effects of climate change.


MR. HOLT. The work of the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition here in Congress is to see that we can move into the future in a sustainable way.

It is completely appropriate that we talk about both energy and environment in this same--really with the same breath. Because as I said, the way we produce and use energy is the greatest insult to our planet. But it is possible to produce and use energy that will power our economy and provide a good quality of life for 10 billion people in the world if we are smart and if we get to work now. We can do it in a way that doesn't ruin the world and condemn all of these billions of people to the kinds of superstorms, the kinds of effects of climate change and spreading diseases and so forth that will result if climate change runs amuck.

New Jerseyans need no further reminder that climate change is real. Evidently, some of our colleagues here do need that reminder. This year, one year after Hurricane Sandy, we are here to tell our friends, to tell our colleagues this is for real, this is serious, and we should get to work. The work of the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition is dedicated to that work.

I thank my colleague, Mr. Tonko of New York, for his work to propel the SEEC coalition.


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