Cantwell Speaks on Senate Floor on Groundbreaking GAO Climate Change Report

Report reveals that by 2039, climate change will cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1 trillion

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took to the Senate floor to speak about a new, groundbreaking Government Accountability Office report requested by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) on the economic impacts of climate change.

“We need to take [the GAO] accounting very seriously and start doing things that will help us reduce the risk, lower the cost, better protect our communities, and give the taxpayers a sense that we're not leaving them to devastation and storms every year, but we're coming up with better strategies to save lives and to save dollars,” said Cantwell.

What the report means for Washington state:

Ocean acidification will mean a decrease in Washington state’s shellfish harvest. According to the study, ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest is already affecting shellfish harvests.

Western states will continue to face record-breaking wildfire seasons.

Coastal communities will face drastic sea level rise and changes in the frequency and intensity of storms. According to the study, storm-related losses due to sea level rise and changes in the frequency and intensity of storms are expected to cost $2.5 trillion by the end of the century.

Senator Cantwell full remarks are below.

Cantwell on GAO Report on

Economic Impact of Climate Change

U.S. Senate Floor

October 24, 2017

Ms. Cantwell: Mr. President, I come to the floor this morning to talk about a GAO report – a Government Accountability [Office] report – that's being released today that says that the cost and impact to the federal government of climate change is in the billions of dollars. In fact, it's in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the next five years, and it's actually, over the next decade-plus, in the trillions of dollars.

Why is this so astounding?

Well, it's astounding because we've not had the Government Accountability Office before outline for us what it costs the U.S. taxpayers; what it costs the Federal government on the impacts of climate; that we are paying astronomical costs. We're discussing right now the supplemental and we can see what damage you have from storms, what damage you can have from fire, what damages you can have from other kinds of events and how much it costs the federal government. GAO took the last two years after receiving a letter from myself and Senator Collins of Maine to say we want to understand these costs.

Now, why did we do this?

The Senator from Maine and I have long been advocates of looking at issues of adaptation and mitigation. That is, we can debate here all we want about what people think the impacts are of climate and what drives it. What we're here today to say is we know that it's costing billions of dollars, and that as stewards of the taxpayers' money, we ought to do a better job at adaptation and mitigation.

That's why we sent the letter, and that's why probably seven or eight years ago, she and I started working to try to encourage various agencies that are most impacted by this to do a better job at adaptation and mitigation.

For us in the Pacific Northwest, we got to this point because we saw the shellfish industry almost devastated by the level of ocean acidification caused by changes in temperature. We had to help the shellfish industry with science and research. If we want to keep a shellfish industry, we had to change the science behind the seeding and do it at specific times when there was the right balance in the water to have this incredible economy that is enjoyed by so many Americans, the Washington shellfish product that we have. Really five generations, six generations of families in that industry almost lost because of these changes.

We are also a state that has a great deal of hydro. A 1-degree temperature change means a lot to what happens to snow pack. It means a lot of the challenges we face. When it comes to fire, we have certainly taken it on the chin with two unbelievable back-to-back fire years, unfortunate loss of life and billions of dollars of loss in impact both to the federal government and to local communities.

What we're saying is we can do better.

We need to recognize these costs and impact and do a better job of planning for them in the future. That is why one of the things that I have done with my colleagues from both Washington, Senator Murray, my colleagues from Idaho, Senators Risch and Crapo, our colleagues from Oregon, Senators Merkley and Wyden, is introduce a bill to help reduce our risk when it comes to the fire seasons and what we can do to better protect our communities. That is the kind of planning and adaptation that we think we need to address.

Today's report cannot be ignored. It cannot be ignored that the federal government is going to have to spend this much money on dealing with the impacts of climate. That's what the Government Accountability Office is saying. It says we need a better plan. We need to reduce costs. We need to look at these impacts and make sure that we as a nation are putting every resource into this or otherwise we really will be spending trillions of dollars. That trajectory is real. That's what the GAO report says. Hundreds of billions of dollars now, trillions in the future.

But if we would simply recognize these impacts and start addressing them by having agencies recognize this and plan for it both in terms of adaptation and mitigation, I guarantee you we can save the taxpayers money. So I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will heed this report.

This report is saying that climate is impacting us, the Federal government. It is costing us a great deal of money. I guarantee you it's money we would rather have to focus on whatever issues my colleagues would like to focus on, whether it's education, job training, any of the other issues that someone might want to address, like health care. We cannot afford to continue to pay this kind of money in dealing with climate.

It's only going to accelerate. That's the scary thing. The GAO report says these numbers are going to increase for the future. So can we at least sit down and talk about the ways just like on fire, just like on flooding, just like on drought, can we at least sit down at the table and plan strategies for how we can work together to mitigate these impacts? I guarantee you if we don't, this bill is going to continue to rise and the conflicts for us are going to be here.

If you look at just this year alone, even though I’m saying it is $600 billion over the next five to ten years and trillions over the next 20, this year alone we will probably see $300 billion between Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

So what is the conclusion I’m drawing?

Well, I think the report is very clear. The research is very clear. One thing that is happening as the climate changes is more intense weather events. These intense weather events are providing challenges like we've never seen before. These challenges and the devastation that caused them is something we need to take into consideration in the future. Certainly we need better science. We rely on the European weather agency to give us the best, most accurate information about storms and weather. We should do that ourselves. We should use the great research being done in Tennessee at the labs there on climate and what we can do to best prepare our nation. We need to come to the table when it comes to the issue of drought and plan for strategies that work and work successfully now, not wait another 20 years and have the cost be even more astronomical.

So I thank my colleague from Maine for joining this effort of getting this documentation by the Government Accountability Office. We need to take their accounting very seriously and start doing things that will help us reduce the risk, lower the cost, better protect our communities, and give the taxpayers a sense that we're not leaving them to devastation and storms every year, but we're coming up with better strategies to save lives and to save dollars.

I thank the president. I yield the floor.