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Senate hearing spotlights the local costs of climate change

A river cut into a hillside, completely taking out a road and leaving an exposed culvert
Jacob W. Frank
National Park Service
Yellowstone National Park flood event 2022: Road washout upriver from Rescue Creek Trailhead

News brief

One takeaway from Yellowstone's historic flooding in June is that extreme weather events and other climate impacts can have huge economic consequences for local communities. Such costs were the focus of a Senate hearing last week.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearing partially focused on how climate change will increase costs for local communities and governments. That includes costs for washed out roads, water pollution from algae, and running out of water entirely.

Joe Flarida heads Power a Clean Future Ohio, a nonpartisan coalition focused on climate solutions, and he presented an analysis that found “local governments in the state of Ohio will need to increase municipal spending between $1.8 billion and $5.9 billion per year by midcentury in order to adapt to the challenges of a worsening climate crisis.”

He added that an additional $5.9 billion would increase local government spending by 82% over 2019 spending.

Shalini Vajjhala heads Re:Focus Partners, a firm that helps develop climate resilience projects. She testified that those sorts of costs aren’t unique to Ohio, and that focusing on local governments and communities nationwide will be imperative.

“No single individual family or region is concerned with the total economic costs of climate change. Everyone is concerned with their own physical and financial security,” she said.

Repairing Yellowstone's flood damage – which resulted from conditions made more likely by climate change – could cost more than $1 billion, according to early estimates. Damage to roads and bridges in Montana will require at least another $29 million. And then there's the economic costs for gateway communities like Gardiner, Mont., which saw its tourism season swept away.

Meanwhile, Republican members of the committee focused on a Securities and Exchange Commisionproposalto make oil and gas companies report more carbon emissions, including from energy they buy, their facilities and even emissions used in their supply chain (like in planes or trucks).

The industry argues that’d be overly expensive, and could inflate energy costs even more while reducing new oil and gas production. It’s uncertain whether it’ll pass Supreme Court muster.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) argued the proposal would harm Americans already struggling with inflation, and could mean more dependence on other nations’ oil.

“You know what’s the last thing Americans need? Policies that are explicitly designed to reduce American energy production, and therefore make energy even more expensive,” Toomey said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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