Group urges U.S. to set up fund to deal with weather

Remnants of the boardwalk and Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, N.J., in the aftermath of Sandy. "Extreme weather is really changing the dialogue," says a US Strong official.
Remnants of the boardwalk and Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, N.J., in the aftermath of Sandy. "Extreme weather is really changing the dialogue," says a US Strong official. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 09, 2013

A newly formed nonprofit, nonpartisan group seeking to jump-start efforts to address the effects of climate change is calling for a dedicated federal fund to prepare for extreme weather patterns.

The group, US Strong, in a report Monday, put the price tag of Hurricane Sandy at more than $70 billion, with half of the damage sustained in New Jersey. New York suffered most of the rest of the damage.

In its 31-page report, "Extreme Weather, Extreme Costs: The True Financial Impact of Superstorm Sandy," the group concludes that uncompensated losses for residents and businesses in New Jersey likely would far exceed current estimates of $8 billion to $13 billion.

Curtis Fisher, national campaign director for US Strong, said the weather events of the last year - Sandy, tornadoes, flooding in Colorado - created an opportunity to move forward on the global issue.

"I think there is a transformation that's already occurred, in terms of conversations with people," said Fisher. "Extreme weather is really changing the dialogue."

The report signals the launch of a campaign to create a federal Extreme Weather Relief and Protection Fund to aid vulnerable communities and insulate the response from political crosswinds, Fisher said. Resistance from some in Congress delayed post-Sandy federal aid.

The group is claiming one convert to the issue - State Sen. Bob Singer, a Republican who represents hard-hit areas of Ocean and Monmouth Counties.

Singer said Monday that the continuing economic fallout and bureaucratic and funding barriers to recovery from Sandy had filled him with a new urgency.

"Everything is not important when it is not happening to you, as opposed to when it affects you," Singer said. He said the country needed a permanent funding source not reliant on political deals and the whims of Congress.

But creating the Extreme Weather Relief and Protection Fund will be contingent on those political winds.

Singer said any dispute over specific effects of climate change was dwarfed by evidence of changing weather conditions apparent to anyone.

"For me, I'm not getting hung up on climate change other than the fact that the storms are getting more severe and more damaging, and we have to prepare for it," he said. "We have to have a permanent funding source.

Gov. Christie has dismissed as "esoteric" the question of whether Sandy was directly caused by climate change, but accepts overall science supporting long-term climate change and mankind's role in it.

His press office did not respond to a request for comment on the report, or for a status update on the state's progress in complying with its own adaptation plan, designed to help residents handle the effects of climate change.

The report by US Strong documents various economic fallouts from Sandy, including increases in bankruptcies, closed businesses, and squeezed municipalities.

Shore towns have sold about $398 million in short-term debt since Sandy, nearly twice what they borrowed the previous year, it said.

The report suggests that the dedicated fund be supported by the federal government by placing a financial cost on putting more carbon pollution into the atmosphere, a "carbon tax" that has run into political trouble in the past.

The fund would aim to both help respond to emergencies and address long-term protection issues, including bolstering natural defenses; building storm-water-management systems; buttressing transportation, utility, and other infrastructure ability to cope with weather events; and leveraging existing federal programs toward preventative programs.

Fisher said Sandy and other events had created a consensus among a range of constituencies, including first responders, reinsurance companies, municipal officials, businesses, and homeowners.

"This is bringing people together," he said. "A lot of people are convinced on the need to act."


BY THE NUMBERS

$1.97B

in damage to critical infrastructure and public buildings in New Jersey.

59,900

privately owned residences damaged.

$950M

New Jersey's estimated tourism loss in third quarter of 2013.


arosenberg@phillynews.com

@amysrosenberg

609-823-0453

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