Florida official describes efforts, challenges in combating climate change

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 29, 2014 

— Citing South Florida’s unique view on climate change, a Broward County commissioner told a Senate panel Tuesday that the issue is one of the most pressing the region now faces _ and that local governments will help usher in necessary changes.

Kristin Jacobs, a Democrat, is also a member of President Barack Obama’s task force on climate change, which recently offered a range of steps federal officials could take to reduce carbon pollution and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Obama administration is in the midst of a major push to take action on climate change, and right now the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing through rules designed to lower carbon pollution.

Jacobs testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It was just the latest in a string of hearings on climate change science and the proposed EPA rule, which could shutter older coal-fired power plants and spur development of more wind and other alternative energy sources. It requires that states develop plans to lower carbon pollution by specified amounts.

Like most hearings, this one fell along traditional party lines. Republican senators bashed extra regulations as burdensome and the science of climate change as uncertain. The leading Democrat on the panel said the science was beyond doubt and the time to act was now.

“Inaction on climate change is not an option for Florida,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island and the subcommittee’s chairman. “The longer the wait for action, the higher the cost.”

“Climate change is stacking the deck against our oceans, our fisheries and our coastal economies,” he said.

Jacobs detailed the impact of rising temperatures and seas on South Florida and talked about steps governments in the area have taken to combat it.

“Florida, especially South Florida, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” she said. “Our extensive coastline, low land elevations, flat topography and unique geology combine to put South Florida communities on the front line for combating climate impacts.”

As did Whitehouse, Jacobs noted that the time to act was now, that “economic implications of a failed response do not allow for inaction. With just one additional foot of sea level rise, $4 billion of taxable property will be flooded in Palm Beach, Broward and Monroe counties. At three feet, that figure rises to $31 billion.”

Among the most pressing problems, she said: extensive flooding during extreme high-tide events, with neighborhoods that are inundated as seawater pours over sea walls, pushes through storm drains and rises through the ground.

What affected communities have done is form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which has coordinated initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases and worked to integrate climate change considerations into county plans. The compact also has a work group to expand the use of coral reefs, mangroves, dunes and other living shoreline projects.

Asked to contrast the partisan rancor in climate change discussions in Washington to those in her state, Jacobs said that “in South Florida, it’s a bipartisan conversation.”

Email: cadams@mcclatchydc.com.

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