Climate change may be questioned by Republican governors for political reasons but it is accepted as an economic and public safety reality by U.S. mayors. The U.S. Conference of Mayors continued its 82nd annual meeting in Dallas, Texas on Sunday with an address by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy who is trying to push forward President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Out of Sunday’s meetings came a non-binding resolution to use natural rather than man-made solutions to combat environmental degradation in coastal cities and elsewhere. The Conference of Mayors is expected to vote on the resolution on Monday.
Mayors of coastal cities are starting to see the effect of rising sea levels caused by melting ice caps and thermal expansion of water from climate change. When the category four Hurricane Ike hit Galveston in 2008, rising tides swamped the 17 ft. seawall, flooding a major portion of the town. The economic devastation was massive. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, the storm cost Texas $12 billion dollars in damages, $2 billion of which was caused by coastal flooding.
The economic devastation of Hurricane Ike in coastal Texas cities was dwarfed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. When Sandy hit Long Island and New York City, the storm surge reached 14 feet above the low water mark, flooding many parts of Long Island and Manhattan. Current damage estimates range in the area of $50 billion dollars. Over 600,000 housing units were destroyed. Economic damages of $8.3 billion and $19 billion were inflicted on New Jersey and New York City. Over 120,000 insurance claims for flooding exceeded $6 billion dollars. The injurious effects of climate change are an economic reality to mayors of coastal cities.
It was accepted at the Conference of Mayors that man-made solutions for combating the effects of climate change, rising sea levels, by building levees and seawalls will not suffice to protect coastlines by themselves. A report by the Nature Conservancy proposed rebuilding coral reefs, replanting vegetation, and restoring wetland habitats along coastal regions in order to combat storm surges from increased severe hurricane activity. The Conference of Mayors accepted the Nature Conservancy’s proposals in their non-binding resolution drafted on Sunday.
With nearly 70 percent of power consumption in the United States occurring in urban areas, Gina McCarthy hoped to bring the reality of carbon pollution reducing policies to the mayors gathered in Texas. The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan is a set of measures and goals to reduce carbon pollution in the nation’s power sector. The plan focuses on power generation efficiency rather than on penalties for excessive carbon pollution. Gina McCarthy presented four guidelines to the mayors: improve efficiency at existing coal-fired plants, increase the use natural gas plants, expand the use of wind and solar energy, and increase energy efficiency in businesses and in homes. In order to measure the reduction of carbon pollution in the states, the EPA will establish a state goal calculated by a “power to pollution ratio” that depends on the existing fossil fuel power plants in the state. State governments are free to implement any carbon reducing policies they see fit in order to increase their state’s ratio.
The Conference of Mayors recognized the importance of their actions on Sunday by accepting the resolution. Mayors whose cities are threatened by the effects of climate change have accepted the economic realities of failing to act. The Obama Administration hopes that their Clean Power Plan will be enough to begin to combat the effects of climate change more effectively.
By Steve Killings