Senate Committee: Weather Events Taking Fiscal Toll on U.S.

Senate Committee: Weather Events Taking Fiscal Toll on U.S.

Senate Hearing, GAO update examine drought and weather events' financial impacts on the government

With recent discussion at the USDA centering on resilience to weather events and climate change, the Government Accountability Office last week released an updated report detailing progress on increasing the nation's fiscal resilience to such events.

Key findings of the study focused on insurance offerings and disaster aid, which many farmers rely on during times of crop loss. The report release accompanied testimony in a same-day U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting focusing on "the costs of not being prepared" for extreme weather events.

Senate Hearing, GAO update examine drought and weather events' financial impacts on the government

According to the GAO's Mark Gaffigan, since 1980, the U.S. has experienced 151 weather disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion each – a reason to ensure that the government should work toward limiting fiscal exposure.

Related: USDA Invests in 'Climate Hubs'

"The costs and impacts of weather disasters resulting from floods, drought, and other events are expected to increase in significance as previously "rare" events become more common and intense," the GAO writes.

The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, GAO said, creates "significant financial exposure." They note that CIC's costs more than doubled from $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $7.6 billion in fiscal year 2012.

While a previous GAO study completed in 2007 found that USDA and the Department of Homeland Security had done little protect against extreme weather events and consider climate change, GAO notes in its recent update that they have now incorporated climate adaptation plans, which have yet to be reviewed by GAO.

The USDA's Climate Adaptation plan was announced in February, 2013. Meanwhile, the agency has spent the last year focused on a variety of changes, including "Climate Hubs" and studies on climate's effects on ag and forestry.

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During the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting, Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the 2012 drought underscored the issues at hand.

"According to the United States Global Change Research Program, extreme weather events have increased in frequency over the past 50 years and are expected to become even more common, more intense, and more costly," Carper commented in opening statements. "But today’s hearing is not intended to hash out climate science. Instead, it is about finding common ground."

Carper pointed out that Super Storm Sandy cost the economy nearly $75 billion – and wildfires in 2013, according to insurance company Munich Re, cost the economy $1.1 billion.

"These economic damages can deliver a devastating blow to many local communities and states, as well as to the federal government," Carper said, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated more than $80 billion in federal assistance for disasters between 2004 and 2011.

"As we continue to debate how to reduce our deficits, I believe we can no longer afford to ignore the impacts these weather events are having on federal spending.

"A little extra planning – combined with prudent, targeted investments – can go a long way in saving both lives and taxpayers dollars," he said.

TAGS: USDA
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