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December 11, 2013

Local leaders planning for climate effects

WASHINGTON (AP) — When it comes to climate change, local officials have a message for Washington: Lead or get out of the way.

Local governments have long acted as first responders in emergencies and now are working to plan for sea level rise, floods, hurricanes and other extreme events associated with climate change.

As a presidential task force prepares for its first meeting Tuesday, local officials say they want and need federal support, but they worry that congressional gridlock and balky bureaucratic rules too often get in the way. Some say Washington needs to reconsider national policies that encourage people to build in beautiful but vulnerable areas.

“The first thing the feds should do is stop making things worse,” said Boulder, Colo., Mayor Matthew Appelbaum. Specifically, by subsidizing flood insurance in low-lying areas and paying billions to fight wildfires that destroy property near national forests, the federal government is encouraging development “in all the wrong places,” Appelbaum said at a recent forum on the impacts of climate change.

Federal assistance was crucial after a massive flood in Colorado in September destroyed nearly 2,000 homes, washed out hundreds of miles of roads and left many small mountain towns completely cut off. But even as cities and towns relied on the National Guard and other federal help in the storm’s immediate aftermath, local leaders said the disaster illustrated problems with a one-size-fits-all approach.

In Fort Collins, Colo., for instance, nearly three dozen federal agencies were involved in fixing a road destroyed by a mudslide.

“Half said, ‘No, it can’t be fixed,’” said Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat. “The other half said ‘go ahead.’ That’s a problem that needs to be resolved.”

Weitkunat, who serves on the presidential task force, said her message to federal officials is simple: “Get out of the way and we can rebound.”

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