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Top 10 States Receiving Federal Disaster Aid Elected Climate Deniers to Congress

Climate

Center for American Progress

By Daniel J. Weiss, Jackie Weidman and Stephanie Pinkalla

The U.S. suffered from numerous extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012. In fact, there were 25 severe storms, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires that each caused more than $1 billion in economic damages, with a total price tag of $188 billion. To help communities recover from these violent weather events, the federal government spent nearly $62 billion for disaster relief in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. These federal funds only cover a portion of recovery costs; private insurance and individuals harmed by the events also spent billions of dollars.

Homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy

There is recent evidence that climate change played a role in the extreme weather events of 2012. The recently released analysis from the American Meteorological Society determined that:

Approximately half the analyses found some evidence that anthropogenically caused climate change was a contributing factor to the extreme event examined, though the effects of natural fluctuations of weather and climate on the evolution of many of the extreme events played key roles as well.

Interestingly, many of the states that received the most federal recovery aid to cope with climate-linked extreme weather have federal legislators who are climate-science deniers. The 10 states that received the most federal recovery aid in fiscal year (FY) 2011 and 2012 elected 47 climate-science deniers to the Senate and the House. Nearly two-thirds of the senators from these top 10 recipient states voted against granting federal emergency aid to New Jersey and New York after Superstorm Sandy.

Information on federal disaster-relief spending is essential to help Congress and the Obama administration budget enough funds to assist communities with damages from future extreme weather events. This issue brief provides the first-known comprehensive estimate of federal disaster-recovery spending on a state-by-state basis. Federal and individual state governments need these data to better budget funds to help communities recover from future storms, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, as scientists warn that climate change will increase the incidences of extreme weather. This information also shows federal taxpayers how money for disaster relief has been spent during the past two years.

The estimates in this issue brief are derived from state-specific federal fiscal outlay data for disaster-recovery programs in FY 2011 and 2012. The brief includes state spending data from six federal departments that provide federal funds for these purposes.

At least one additional program is not included in this analysis because the relevant department was unable or unwilling to provide state-specific outlay data. With the increasing cost and frequency of extreme severe weather events, the federal government must make state-by-state data on disaster-recovery spending publicly and readily available.

As the following map shows, the 10 states that received the most federal disaster relief are primarily farm states in the plains and the Midwest. These states suffered billions of dollars of crop losses due to prolonged drought in 2011 and 2012. This necessitated an estimated $28 billion in crop insurance expenditures in FY 2011 and 2012, which comprised a majority of the spending for disaster programs where we could identify state-by-state expenditures.

Table 2

Extreme Weather on the Rise

Data from the past 30 years reveal an increase in both presidential disaster declarations and billion-dollar extreme weather events. In the 1980s, there was an annual average of less than two extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion in damages, and the average annual total damages from these events was $20 billion (in 2012 dollars). From 2010 to 2012, however, there was an annual average of more than nine extreme weather events with at least $1 billion in damages, with average annual total damages of $85 billion (in 2012 dollars).

What’s worse, the draft National Climate Assessment predicts that the number of extreme weather events will continue to grow and that our communities face growing risks because they were not built for an unstable climate:

Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase. Heat-trapping gases already in the atmosphere have committed us to a hotter future with more climate-related impacts over the next few decades.

Many [climate-related changes] will be disruptive to society because our institutions and infrastructure have been designed for the relatively stable climate of the past, not the changing one of the present and future.

Extreme Weather Continues in 2013

This past June was the fifth-hottest month on record, and the first six months of 2013 were the “seventh warmest such period on record,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As of Sept. 4, there were 44 presidential disaster declarations in 2013 due to climate-related extreme weather events. AON Benfield, a reinsurance company, estimates that extreme weather caused at least $32 billion in economic damages in the U.S. during the first half of 2013.

What’s more, one-third of the continental U.S. is suffering from severe, extreme or exceptional drought as of August 27; the drought has shrunk available Colorado River water for cities dependent on it. As The Weather Channel reported:

More than a dozen years of drought have begun to extract a heavy toll from water supplies in the West, where a report released last week forecast dramatic cuts next year in releases between the two main reservoirs on the Colorado River, the primary source of water for tens of millions of people across seven western states.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation—the agency charged with managing water in the West—announced Friday [August 16] that it would cut the amount of water released next year by Lake Powell in Arizona by 750,000 acre-feet, enough to supply about 1.5 million homes.

It marks the first reduction in water flows since the mid-1960s.

“This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” said Larry Wolkoviak, director of the bureau’s Upper Colorado Region.

Wildfires are plaguing the West as well. Nationwide, nearly 35,000 wildfires have burned 3.9 million acres of land as of September 4, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. This includes the ongoing Rim fire in California, which has already burned an area the size of Chicago in and around Yosemite National Park. The U.S. Forest Service, which receives 70 percent of federal fire-protection funding, has depleted its budget for wildfire response, forcing the agency to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from other programs to fight ongoing fires. This funding shortage was exacerbated by the automatic across-the-board sequester budget cuts that shrunk firefighting funds by five percent, forcing cuts of 500 firefighters and 50 engines.

Recommendations

Scientists predict that extreme weather will worsen in the coming years even if the U.S. and other nations make significant reductions in carbon and other climate pollution. Despite this, it is still imperative that the U.S. significantly reduce its greenhouse gas pollution—starting with carbon pollution from power plants—and continue to build support for the international phase down of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, and other climate pollutants. President Obama’s recently announced Climate Action Plan includes many essential measures that would launch such pollution-reduction efforts.

In addition to pollution reductions, the U.S. must also plan for the fiscal impact of more frequent or ferocious extreme weather events. The National Academy of Sciences recommended that “a national resource of disaster-related data should be established that documents injuries, loss of life, property loss and impacts on economic activity.” This should include an annual estimate of total federal disaster expenditures nationally and by state. The latter information is essential for budget planning since states will draw on different disaster-relief programs, depending on the climate impacts in each state. States suffering from drought, for instance, will rely on Department of Agriculture programs to help farmers, while those harmed by hurricanes will need Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief.

Congress must use this information to include full funding for disaster relief in future budgets and spending bills so that Americans can better understand the cost of extreme weather—and the cost of inaction on climate change. In addition, Congress must end budget sequestration to ensure that funds for disaster-relief and recovery efforts are not reduced further due to across-the-board budget cuts.

The federal government must also invest more funds in communities’ efforts to become more resilient to extreme weather. A recent Center for American Progress analysis estimated that the federal government spends $6 on disaster recovery for every $1 invested in reducing disaster damages, even though resilience investments reduce economic damages four to one. Fortunately, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan includes many valuable proposals to help “prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the country … by building stronger and safer communities and infrastructure.” The plan will marshal existing federal resources to help communities build stronger disaster resilience.

In addition, the government should gather and publish data on current federal community resilience investments and future needs, and also identify a dedicated source of revenue to provide federal investments in state and local extreme weather resilience efforts. This will not only help Americans protect their lives, homes, farms and businesses, but it should also reduce total federal disaster-relief spending, as resilience investments reduce future damages and disaster-recovery costs.

Conclusion

In 2011 and 2012, Americans suffered from severe droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms and floods, which some described as the “new normal” after decades of a relatively stable climate. This climate instability is exacerbated by climate change, as noted by Dr. Kenneth Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He warned that “all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.” In addition to steep climate pollution reductions, we must increase our knowledge about where and how much we are spending on disaster relief to help the U.S. recover from climate-driven wind, rain, heat and fire.

Methodology

To compile state-level outlays from agency budgets for disaster-relief and resilience programs, we found publicly available budget information from annual budget summaries and reports published on agency websites for FY 2011 and 2012. For the departments and agencies that did not publish this information, we contacted staff from each department and agency with our request and submitted Freedom of Information Act solicitations. Unfortunately, not all of our requests have received replies at this time.

This compilation of federal disaster spending by state comes from multiple agencies. Although we believe that it includes all the major programs that fund disaster relief and recovery annually, it may have some gaps. We welcome any state-by-state spending data for additional federal disaster-recovery programs.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. Jackie Weidman was a Special Assistant for the Energy program at the Center. Stephanie Pinkalla was an intern for the Energy program. 

Thanks to Matt Kasper, Special Assistant for the Energy program.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

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The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images

By Sue Branford and Thais Borges

Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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