Conservative Media Cry Wolf On FEMA Climate Policy

Conservative media are alleging that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is attempting to “punish” governors who do not acknowledge climate change by “holding disaster funds hostage.” In reality, FEMA is simply updating its requirements for state disaster mitigation plans to ensure that they include consideration of climate change impacts, which is essential to reduce risk from hazards that states will face as the climate continues to change. 


FEMA Requiring That State Disaster Preparedness Plans Consider Climate Change Impacts

FEMA: State Risk Assessments Must Account For Changing Climate Conditions That Affect Disaster Vulnerability. In March this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released its new State Mitigation Plan Review Guide, which will supersede prior hazard mitigation policies for states and go into effect in March 2016. The new guidelines require that states applying for disaster preparedness funds produce plans that consider “changing environmental or climate conditions that may affect and influence the long-term vulnerability from hazards in the state.” The guidelines further state that an understanding of climate vulnerabilities will help states “prioritiz[e] mitigation actions” and that FEMA will “work with states to identify tools and approaches that ... reduce risks and increase resilience from a changing climate”:

Focus on Reducing Risks. Resilience, in terms of mitigation planning, means the ability to adapt to changing conditions and prepare for, withstand, and rapidly recover from disruptions caused by a hazard. State risk assessments must be current, relevant, and include new hazard data, such as recent events, current probability data, loss estimation models, or new flood studies as well as information from local and tribal mitigation plans, as applicable, and consideration of changing environmental or climate conditions that may affect and influence the long-term vulnerability from hazards in the state. FEMA recognizes there exists inherent uncertainty about future conditions and will work with states to identify tools and approaches that enable decision-making to reduce risks and increase resilience from a changing climate. An understanding of vulnerabilities will assist with prioritizing mitigation actions and policies that reduce risk from future events. [FEMA, March 2015]

New Guidelines Will Not Affect Money For Relief After A Disaster Occurs. InsideClimateNews expanded on the FEMA policy, explaining that it will not affect federal money for relief after a disaster occurs:

The policy doesn't affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood or other disaster. Specifically, beginning in March 2016, states seeking preparedness money will have to assess how climate change threatens their communities. Governors will have to sign off on hazard mitigation plans. While some states, including New York, have already started incorporating climate risks in their plans, most haven't because FEMA's old 2008 guidelines didn't require it. [InsideClimateNews, 3/18/15]

Conservative Media Claim FEMA Is Holding Funds “Hostage” And “Punish[ing]” Climate Contrarians 

Fox News: FEMA “Holding Disaster Funds Hostage.” In a headline rundown on the March 24 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers declared that FEMA is “holding disaster funds hostage, all in the name of global warming.” She went on to state that the agency “will deny all disaster preparedness money to states with governors who don't incorporate global warming into their emergency plans starting next year.” The segment's on-screen text stated: “Climate change... or bust. FEMA to deny funds to global warming deniers.” 

[Fox & Friends First, 3/25/15]

Drudge Report, Fox Nation Hype Washington Times Article Claiming FEMA Guidelines Are “Target[ing] Climate Change Skeptic Governors.” The Washington Times published an article on March 23 headlined: “FEMA targets climate change skeptic governors, could withhold funding.” The article was reproduced on the Fox News site, and hyped on the conservative news aggregator site The Drudge Report on March 24: 


[Washington Times, 3/23/15;, 3/24/15; Drudge Report, accessed 3/24/15]

Patriot Post: FEMA Will “Punish Climate Skeptics.” The conservative blog Patriot Post published an article headlined: “FEMA to Punish Climate Skeptics,” which claimed that FEMA “is cracking down on Republican governors who don't agree on the supposed impacts of man-made global warming.” The Patriot Post also described the guidelines as “sanctioning.” [Patriot Post, 3/23/15]

Townhall: FEMA Dealing A “Low Blow” By “Politiciz[ing]” Disaster Relief. A March 23 Townhall article criticized FEMA for acting politically and playing “hardball” with states' disaster preparedness funds, calling the new policy “a low blow”:

It goes without saying that this is a bit of a low blow. FEMA isn't supposed to be a political organization--saving people from hurricanes and other disasters should not be politicized. It's also not a good practice for the federal government to essentially hold funds hostage until a state behave a certain way.

The article also included tweets from the author's colleague, who wrote that the move is being used to “deny disaster funding to states with governor's [sic] Dems don't like”:


[Townhall, 3/23/15]

Hot Air: FEMA Policy Is A “Political Pander To The Left” That “Plac[es] Citizens At Risk.” A post on the conservative blog Hot Air derided the move as “an obvious political pander to the left with a bonus of putting right-wingers in a spot, even at the expense of placing citizens at risk”:

“This story really brings together all the elements of Obamaism,” tweets Dan McLaughlin. which is true. It's legally dubious; it ignores Congress, which might constitutionally have the power to let FEMA make this judgment but hasn't been consulted; it's an obvious political pander to the left with a bonus of putting right-wingers in a spot, even at the expense of placing citizens at risk; and it craps all over state autonomy. Basically, it's the environmental equivalent of executive amnesty. All that's missing is 18-24 months of Obama statements denying that he'd ever do something like this before turning around and doing it. [Hot Air, 3/23/15]

Daily Caller: FEMA Guidelines “Essentially Force” States To Acknowledge “Alleged” Risks Of Man-Made Climate Change. The Daily Caller reported on March 23 that the guidelines “essentially force some state governments to acknowledge the alleged risks of man-made warming.” [Daily Caller, 3/23/15]