Cantwell: ‘We Need a Plan’ to Address Rising Sea Levels

Puget Sound structures in flood hazard areas valued at over $28 billion; Climate change impacts in Washington to reach $10 billion per year as soon as 2020 ***VIDEO AVAILABLE***

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted the impacts that climate change and rising sea levels will have on Washington state’s infrastructure, economy, and first-response capability and discussed the need for smart adaptation planning.

A recent study projected that the potential costs to Washington state from climate change impacts would reach nearly $10 billion per year by 2020 and $16 billion per year by 2040. In the Puget Sound region, the sea level is projected to rise by six inches by 2050 – 13 inches by the end of the century. And due to potential ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica, catastrophic increases of up to four feet for the Puget Sound are even possible by the end of the century.

Dr. Anthony Janetos, Director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute also testified.

Click here to watch a video of Cantwell’s remarks at today’s hearing.

“We just can’t sustain this kind of level of sea level rise without a plan. We need a plan,” Cantwell said during today’s hearing. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change right now on ocean acidification levels and how it’s affecting the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest so we’re really seeing economic impacts. …We have so much property in Puget Sound. We have something like $27 billion dollars worth of structures that could be impacted on these kinds of rising sea level issues.”

Rising sea levels are primarily caused by two processes: additional water in the ocean from melting of glaciers and land-based ice sheets like Greenland and Antarctica; and thermal expansion of ocean waters due to warmer sea temperatures. Sea levels are rising globally; however, the rate of change has accelerated in recent years. Between 1993 and 2008, average sea level rises were approximately 0.12 inches per year, which is roughly twice as fast as the long-term trend.

Sea level rise accounts for just a small fraction of the mounting costs from climate change. Washington state will also need to deal with increased ocean acidification, more extreme weather events, and loss of snowpack the region depends on for hydropower, irrigation water and industries that depend on salmon recovery. According a 2011 University of Oregon report, Washington state’s snowpack will decline by as much as 29 percent by the 2020s, which will lead to billions of dollars in economic losses annually.

“I think we need to do more…you’re talking about effects that are going to take place regardless of whether we do anything about climate change and climate change legislation,” Cantwell remarked today. “These are things that are going to happen. So now the question is if we keep making it worse.”

Last Congress, Senator Cantwell introduced the bipartisan Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) Act (S.2877) with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). The CLEAR Act is a breakthrough, bipartisan energy and climate bill that uses a simple, market-based system to spur clean-energy job growth, protect Americans from energy price increases, and reduce global warming pollution. The CLEAR Act would safeguard low and middle income households from energy rate increases by refunding program revenues to consumers; getting the government out of the business of picking technology winners and losers among technologies and special interest groups; and effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent by 2050 to avert the worst dangers of global warming.

In November 2007, Senator Cantwell introduced the Climate Change Adaptation Act (S.2355 in the 110th Congress) which directed the president to develop a national strategy for addressing the impact that climate change will have on our natural resources. With broad support among the scientific community, environmental groups, states, resource managers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Climate Change Adaptation Act cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on June 5, 2008 but unfortunately did not receive consideration by the full Senate. However, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has since set up a Climate Change Adaptation Task Force which aims to incorporate many of the goals of Cantwell’s legislation.