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Environment & Science

Cities, states tell White House that climate hazards, including drought, are serious and immediate

This week the California Department of Transportation launched an education campaign with 700 electronic highway boards displaying the message:
This week the California Department of Transportation launched an education campaign with 700 electronic highway boards displaying the message: "Serious Drought. Help Save Water."

Leaders from cities, counties, tribes, and states around the U.S. held a closed-door meeting in Los Angeles today to offer federal officials their view on adapting to climate change and preparing for its hazards – including drought.  

The Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience has now met twice since being convened by President Barack Obama last fall. The group’s goal is a report to the White House, describing ways that federal agencies can cut red tape, streamline processes, and promote the ability of local agencies to respond to climate change.

Eight governors, including Jerry Brown, are on the task force. Other California participants include Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Santa Barbara Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Garcetti characterized the conversation as “very specific.” Among the topics discussed were transportation, water policies, infrastructure, and disaster response.

As usual, California generally and Los Angeles specifically won kudos from federal officials for leading efforts toward low impact development, green infrastructure, and greenhouse gas reduction.

California has committed to cut its contribution of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels within 6 years. In addition to the state law mandating lower carbon emissions (AB 32), other laws, including the state’s renewables requirement for utilities’ energy portfolios, seek to mitigate the effects of climate change.

For almost a decade, Los Angeles has been a member of the C-40 group of cities, first convened by the mayor of the City of London to take “decisive and immediate” action to cut their contributions to climate change. 

With this task force, and in other statements about national climate policy, President Obama increasingly has emphasized local partnerships that require no Congressional action.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama said he would make climate change a priority. But the ideas he outlined don’t explicitly involve Congress.

 “The President knows that the best ideas don’t come from Washington, they come from our communities, and the communities we serve,” said Nancy Sutley, the head of the Presdent’s Council on Environmental Quality (herself a former Los Angeles official).

Sutley and Garcetti defended the aim of the task force, and emphasized that the need for solutions is immediate and serious.

“This is not about some abstract thing called climate change. This is about the fire that we saw just north of Glendora…This is about what we’re seeing right now with water, and 12 percent of the usual snowpack we’ve had through December,” Garcetti said. “This is about things that people can wrap their head around,” telling one reporter that if he polled people about the importance of fires to the local economy, “people would probably poll that off the charts.”

According to Sutley, the cost of weather disasters in the U.S. exceeded $110 billion in 2012. “Certainly as we speak a number of western states are facing drought conditions, including a historic one in California,” she added.

The report of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience should land on the President’s desk later this fall.