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Paul T.
Democrat NY 20

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  • Commemorating the 1-Year Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

    by Representative Paul Tonko

    Posted on 2013-10-29

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    TONKO. Mr. Speaker, on this evening of October 29, we commemorate the 1-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the east coast. Many are still recovering from that tragic storm, and it certainly was a major force to be reckoned with.

    That force of nature was, at one point, nearly 1,000 miles wide over the ocean front, and when it landed in southern Jersey, it was nearly 900 [[Page H6877]] miles wide. It impacted so many States; 24 States, in number, felt the impact of that superstorm.

    It was devastation to property; it was devastation to lives: 162 people in the United States lost their lives. And the fact that the storm surged to some record proportions reminds us of the impact of climate change.

    {time} 1830 Now as a member of the New York delegation in this House, my area received some mild impact from that superstorm. But ironically, the year before, Hurricanes Irene and Lee impacted the upstate region of New York and, again, devastated our area with loss of life, certainly of valuable farm land that was eroded, and damage to communities, businesses, and farms across the upstate region.

    These are issues that are brought to mind this evening as we commemorate that 1-year anniversary, as many continue to struggle to recover from the ravages of Mother Nature.

    The cost of climate inaction is severe. Climate change is an issue of science. It is certainly an issue of public health. And most definitely, it is an issue of economics, economic vitality.

    Earlier, the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition, which is a growing number--56, to be exact--of Democrats in the House looking to bring about significant policy reforms that speak to the environmental and energy needs of this Nation, began to provide a laser-sharp focus on the cost of climate change to our economy.

    In 2011 and 2012, there were some 25 extreme weather events that caused at least $1 billion each or more in damages. Total estimated economic damages were approaching $200 billion, and the cost to taxpayers, some $136 billion. The cost to individual taxpayers totaled $1.61 billion. So we know that there is a tremendous impact here that has been realized by the lack of a focus on climate change and global warming.

    As we continue to look at recovery--even from Irene and Lee in the upstate New York portion--as we look at the impact, the damage that came with Superstorm Sandy, as we look at the damage recently to Colorado, and if we look at the other extreme--not rainfall and flooding, but certainly drought and looking at the wildfires that have consumed some States in our country, there is definitely economic consequence that comes with climate change.

    In my territory, in my area that is part of the 20th Congressional District, it becomes very apparent that we need to do more than just replace. If data compiled are telling us that extreme rainfall has been part of the last decade or two, then wise, effective government will not merely replace but reevaluate how to reconfigure, for instance, a bridge that may cross, traverse one of the creeks. I know that that is the case in many locations.

    Looking at electric utilities, looking at what withstood the pressures of the storm; combined heat and power systems that we will talk about during this hour that apparently withstood greater pressure than some of the traditional systems, so we go forward with not just merely replacement, but we go forward with a renewal, a revision of how to take that area that was affected and make it work again. That is sound government. That is effective government.

    Tonight we are joined by several colleagues. We are joined by Representative Rush Holt from the State of New Jersey, and we are joined by Representative Scott Peters from the State of California. We may be visited by other colleagues this evening. We are going to talk about impacts they have seen perhaps in their region and talk about the science and economics related to climate change.

    I believe we, through SEEC, through the Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition, have brought about the discussion, have developed the dialogue, have encouraged moving forward, if you will, on this very important dynamic, understanding it full well so that we can move into prevention because the question asked here by a growing number of colleagues is, how long can we afford to go without a plan of action before we understand that the cost of replacement or renewal or transformation is going to drain the taxpayers, is going to drain the individuals and families impacted, the businesses impacted? No one wins in that scenario.

    So, Representative Rush Holt, if you would like to share some thoughts this evening as we begin our hour, we welcome you.

    Mr. HOLT. I thank my friend from New York (Mr. Tonko) for arranging this discussion.

    It is well worth recognizing the anniversary of this devastating storm because it might be said this was a storm like we have never seen before. That may be true, but I don't think it is correct to say this is a storm such as we will never see again.

    A year ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey and much of the east coast. The storm may have faded from the headlines, but New Jerseyans haven't forgotten. It is felt in a very personal and painful way by thousands and thousands of New Jerseyans still today.

    These New Jerseyans are not alone. I mean that in two senses. First, we can hear from some who are representative of the millions. But also, when we hear from the younger New Jerseyans who are affected, we understand that they represent the future that will be affected by climate change. Quite simply, superstorms like Sandy are the new normal, and we had better get used to it, even if climate change skeptics claim otherwise.

    I think response to Sandy means, of course, tending to the human needs of those who have been victims of the storm, but it also means making significant investments in power engineering and transportation engineering and rail engineering and wireless engineering and shoreline engineering and river flood control engineering and residential planning, and taking steps to deal with the root cause of what we see.

    We may not be able to stop hurricanes in their tracks. In fact, we certainly can't. But we can make sure that our infrastructure and our environment and our communities are more resilient when they strike, and if we work hard as a Nation and as humanity, we may be able to stem the climate change that will result in more and more powerful superstorms.

    I know some in Washington are skeptical of the role of the Federal Government in fighting climate change, but as Sandy's $83 billion pricetag should make clear, society, our economy, yes, and our government will bear the costs of climate change one way or another. If we make the investments today, as the debts are coming due, we would do far better than to wait to pick up the pieces after other superstorms hit.

    I will be happy, as we go along, to talk about some specific New Jerseyans who were affected. I will be happy to talk about some of the science that suggests where we are as a world. Mostly, I just want to make the point that this is the new normal that we should be prepared for.

    Mr. TONKO. Thank you very much, Representative Holt. Certainly your State, my home State suffered economic consequences to the nth degree. It is a stark reminder that the cost of inaction here is painfully borne by taxpayers into the future also.

    So I am proud of the SEEC organization, the coalition raising the consciousness of the House as to the importance of this issue.

    We are joined by Representative Scott Peters from California. Representative Peters has worked in the environmental arena and has contributed greatly in that regard. We are proud to have you join us this evening, Representative.

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