Climate change is real. Over the past year, the United States has seen increased numbers of major, deadly storms that are devastating our communities. Last summer we saw major wildfires not only in the west, but also in the plains states. We also experienced a drought that affected 60% of the country and increased the price of some of our most basic food staples. Just last weekend, we saw a snowstorm of historic proportions devastate our neighbors in New England. And communities all along the Atlantic seaboard, including my home state of Maryland, are still recovering from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, which resulted in dozens of lives lost, millions of homes deprived of electricity, and on which we just spent more than fifty billion dollars in relief.
The public has taken note of the clear signs and is sounding the alarm on climate change. I want to applaud the tens of thousands of people will be traveling to Washington, DC, this weekend to demonstrate their support for President Obama’s efforts to address climate change. I hear that more than 100 buses coming from over 30 states are arriving on Sunday for the Forward on Climate Rally. It is good to know that the public supports such leadership.
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. As President Obama said in his inauguration speech, failure to do so would betray future generations. And I want the President to know that I stand in full support of his leadership to address this crisis expeditiously.
This climate crisis is already happening, and the extreme weather that we have been experiencing as a nation makes it clear. According to NOAA, 2012 was the hottest year globally on record. There was a deadly wildfire season in our western states last summer. 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 US Air Force Academy, and tragically killed two people. Right here in Washington, the summer of 2012 brought us the longest recorded streak of 95-degree-plus days, and a resulting multi-day power outage that crippled the Washington area. In my home state of Maryland, hundreds of thousands of people were without power for days. Being without air-conditioning during a heat wave, without heat during a blizzard, without refrigeration for days at a time is no mere inconvenience – it is a public health issue. We must act to ensure the health and safety of our communities.
Extreme weather is not theoretical. It is happening to us right now, and it is affecting our nation’s infrastructure, our environment, and our public health and safety. It is time that we get serious with two key responses to the climate threat. First, we must commit to investing in clean and efficient technologies to move away from the carbon-based energy that is contributing to the climate threat. Equally importantly, we must adapt our infrastructure and systems to these new conditions.
From our transportation infrastructure to our water systems to our public utilities, major systems are being overwhelmed by flooding, wind, and heat. Last summer at Washington National Airport, a US Airways regional jet became stuck on the tarmac when temperatures over 100 degrees melted the asphalt. There was a DC Metro train derailment just up the road last summer as well, after tracks buckled in the extreme heat. If we want to be able to maintain an air transportation system or a mass transit system under these “new normal” conditions, we will need to make the investments so that our infrastructure does not fail and buckle in the heat.
Our water infrastructure, already in desperate need of repair, is also at risk from climate change impacts. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson told Congress that adapting to changing hydrological conditions caused by climate change is a “significant issue” that water systems managers 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. I will be reintroducing my bill, the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act, to equip our communities to adapt their water systems to these changing conditions.
We need to get serious as a nation about investing in these changes. I am proud to say that Maryland is at the forefront of some of these solutions. For example, Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act commits our State to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. As another example, the Maryland Congressional delegation has worked with state officials to invest in the widening and replenishment of Assateague Island off of Maryland’s coast. Assateague Island acts as a natural storm break to Ocean City, a major residential and commercial area. During Hurricane Sandy, Assateague Island prevented millions of dollars in property damage, proving that the investment in that natural infrastructure worked. With stronger and more frequent storms hitting our country, we need to invest in such common sense actions to deal with the realities of severe weather brought on by climate change.
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 commit to investing in clean energy technologies, so that we can move away from the carbon-based energy that is causing our planet to 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 threatening 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. We need to act now to protect our communities.