The Washington Post

Sen. Patty Murray provides climate costs talking points

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discuss their initial meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discuss their initial meeting at the U.S. Capitol Oct. 17, 2013 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is sending a memo Friday to her Democratic colleagues urging them to start talking about how climate change will hurt the federal budget.

The memo, obtained by The Washington Post, details how global warming impacts will affect four key sectors of the federal budget: disaster relief; transportation and infrastructure; national security and agriculture. It comes three days after the Budget Committee held a hearing on the subject, and the White House published an economic analysis saying that delaying carbon emissions cuts will cost the U.S. billions.

Warning that it "is not just an environmental issue," Murray writes, "Climate change will also have serious ramifications for our economy and the federal budget, and failing to confront it will make it harder to meet our long-term fiscal challenges... The longer we wait, the bigger these challenges will be -- and the effects are becoming clearer in certain areas of our budget."

During Obama's first term the president and his aides frequently touted the "green jobs" and other economic benefits that stemmed from curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. While Democrats still emphasize the opportunities that come from renewable energy, they are increasingly highlighting the economic downside of global warming.

Murray notes in the memo that the federal government already spends $22 billion to help state and local governments keep its infrastructure "in good repair," and those expenses will rise as hotter weather and more frequent flooding "will put added stress on bridge supports and public transit systems, requiring substantial additional investment."

Military installations are already experiencing "climate-related damage," Murray adds, "costing taxpayers millions of dollars for each new necessary repair, " while farming and disaster spending are also rising as a result.

"Using just these four examples, climate change, if left unaddressed, will add tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal costs over the next decade alone, with much larger costs in later decades."

Some utility industry officials, however, say the costs of the administration's signature climate policy -- imposing the first-ever carbon limits on existing power plants -- outweigh its benefits.

Scott Segal, who represents coal-fired utilities as director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council wrote in an e-mail that "no one challenges that [climate change] is important and appropriate for government response," but it does not justify the  draft power plant rule. Suggesting these carbon cuts will do little to slow global temperature trends or the policies of other nations, Segal wrote, "There is no doubt that the proposed EPA rules will significantly raise the price of electricity in the United States."

"This will directly impact the cost of operating the military, which accounts for more that 93 percent of US government energy consumption and is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States," he added. "Because energy consumed by active-duty military and civilian personnel is some 35 percent higher than per capita energy consumption of the general US population, raising energy costs can be expected to have a disproportionate impact on military spending."


Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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