The White House says it backs a local approach to climate change. That’s a key reason President Barack Obama appointed the task force, which includes more than two dozen state, local and tribal officials who will advise the administration on how to respond to severe storms, wildfires, droughts and other events affected by climate change. All but four task force members are Democrats.
“Climate impacts are really local. They are about the place where you are, and everyone has to deal with this in a bit of a different way,” said Susan Ruffo, deputy associate director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
In states such as Florida, climate change is “about sea level rise,” Ruffo said, while in some Western states the main effects are more frequent wildfires, as well as extreme flooding or drought.
While the task force is looking at federal money spent on roads, bridges, flood control and other projects, most key decisions are local, Ruffo said, citing zoning rules and building codes that could be adapted to account for climate change.
Even when Congress does act, it faces resistance. A law approved last year lowers federal subsidies for properties in flood zones. The measure, intended to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent after an onslaught of disaster-related claims in recent years, is under attack from lawmakers in coastal states worried about sharp insurance rate hikes for some property owners. Some of those pushing to delay or repeal the law voted for it last year.
Appelbaum, the Boulder mayor, said the pushback on the flood-insurance law shows the daunting task facing government at all levels.
“Maybe we’ll never get up the political gumption to make everybody move” from flood- and fire-prone areas, he said at a forum last week hosted by the World Resources Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But we should sure as heck stop encouraging people to increase development in those locations. The feds keep doing it.”