Commemorating the 1-Year Anniversary of Superstorm Sandyby Representative Scott H. Peters
Posted on 2013-10-29
PETERS of California. Thank you very much, Mr. Tonko. I
appreciate the chance to speak with you on this special occasion.
I am the climate task force chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition, SEEC, and I rise to recognize the 1-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and to recognize those who have lost their lives as well as those continuing to rebuild from the destruction.
I might mention, for the benefit of Mr. Holt, that I am a graduate of Westfield High. I spent my high school years in New Jersey. I still have sisters in Chatham and New Providence and nieces and nephews. I visited regularly Long Beach Island, Ship Bottom, and Beach Haven for family vacations. So I know well a lot of those areas and how [[Page H6878]] hard they have been hit both from a personal and an economic standpoint.
I want to speak a little bit too about San Diego, though, as it has been my home for 25 years. My constituents in San Diego have experienced and know the long rebuilding and recovery process after disaster strikes, and we have a little bit of a different effect from climate change and global warming.
October marks the 10-year anniversary--and I think the anniversary was a few days ago--of the beginning of the Cedar Fire, the largest wildfire in California history. As a San Diego City Council member at the time, I remember firsthand the destructive impact of this fire on people's lives. It destroyed hundreds of homes, personal belongings and memories, and the recovery costs were in the billions of dollars.
The Cedar Fire burned through 273,246 acres of San Diego County, destroyed 2,232 homes, and took 15 lives. It burned through 95 acres of the Cuyamaca State Park and blazed through 98 percent of its mature conifer trees. To date, little of the forest has grown back from the bare mineral soil left behind by the wildfire.
The community faced similar damage in 2007 during the Witch Creek Fire, and parts of the city of San Diego were also scarred at that time.
Wildfires aren't new to California, but the damages from these fires are rising. This will sound familiar when we think about the warmest years on record all being recent. In California, 12 of the 20 most damaging wildfires occurred in the last 10 years. This has huge implications for California's tourism and farming industries. For example, take the Rim Fire this summer that pushed into parts of the Yosemite National Park and devastated local tourism.
After the Cedar Fire, San Diego, the county and the city, are undoubtedly more prepared and ready to respond to a large wildfire. We have better communication equipment, better communication among agencies, and better fire equipment in general. More importantly, we have worked to minimize further damage through better planning. As Thom Porter, the chief of the San Diego Fire Authority said, ``It's not about stopping a fire from occurring but preventing the amount of damage it causes.'' Today San Diego has new planning guidelines and building codes and 100-foot brush clearance requirements around homes. Before 2003, it was just 30 feet. We found that we could decrease risk and save homes and lives.
Resiliency starts at the local level because they know the conditions and the situations on the ground. They are the people who can talk to the neighbors about what they have to do to be ready. We have to make our communities more resilient to wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather.
In the last 5 years, wildfires have cost taxpayers more than $1.6 billion a year. Last year, 9.2 million acres were burned by wildfires, which is an area bigger than the States of Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined.
In June, I introduced the bipartisan STRONG Act so the Federal Government could give tools for planning and resiliency to State and local actors. I think one of the first things we noticed as freshmen here, one of the first votes we were asked to take, was $60 billion for Sandy relief, which was the appropriate vote to take. We have spent $136 billion on relief in the last 2 years off the budget.
Every dollar we spend now on disaster preparedness and resiliency, we can avoid at least $4 in future losses and FEMA expenses. We can bounce back faster with less economic damage. Each day that a community is disrupted by extreme weather, we lose economic output. So we need to be doing more to support our local communities with emergency management communication, public health, and energy reliability in the event of an extreme weather event, whether it is a wildfire or something like Superstorm Sandy.
Swiss Re, a major reinsurer, recently ranked the top 10 metro areas in North and Central America that face the highest value of working days lost from natural perils. Nine of them were in the United States.
On this occasion, I commit with my colleagues to better protect my district from the devastation caused by extreme weather by working to rebuild stronger and smarter with a mind for the future.
Again, thank you very much for inviting me. I would be happy to discuss some of these items.