The Las Vegas Review-Journal is mirroring the claims of congressional climate science deniers, who are lambasting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for requiring that states consider climate change impacts to better protect themselves from future disasters.
In a May 11 editorial, the Review-Journal enthusiastically endorsed a letter from a group of senators -- led by famed climate science denier and Environment and Public Works Committee chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) -- which alleged that the new FEMA policy requiring states to address climate change in their disaster mitigation plans “injects unnecessary, ideological-based red tape into the disaster preparedness process.”
Echoing the GOP senators, the Review-Journal declared that “climate change is not settled science,” and that FEMA has no right to weigh in on an issue as “dogmatic and hyperpolitical” as global warming. Like the letter itself, the editorial also channeled its inner Fox News, claiming the FEMA climate policy is a matter of “ideology.” Never mind that 97 percent of climate scientists agree human activities are causing the planet to warm or that NASA scientists say “it is very likely that [climate change] will impact future catastrophes.”
The Review-Journal also misled on the impact of the FEMA policy. Despite quoting a portion of the GOP letter noting that the policy relates to “prepar[ing] for future emergencies,” the editorial nonetheless claimed it would threaten “people in urgent need of help.” To be clear: The climate change requirement would only apply to funding for disaster preparedness, not disaster relief. Or as InsideClimateNews put it, "[t]he policy doesn't affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood or other disaster."
Finally, the Review-Journal claimed that “FEMA simply has no business telling states how to function when the agency is afflicted with gross incompetence,” pointing to FEMA's responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as “legendary boondoggles.”
Ironically, George W. Bush-era FEMA director Michael Brown, the man widely recognized as being chiefly responsible for FEMA's mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, shares the Review-Journal editorial board's position -- including its climate science denial. In an appearance on Fox News last week, Brown described the FEMA climate policy as “Orwellian” and said he doubts “man has much impact” on climate change.
As for FEMA's response to Hurricane Sandy under President Obama, it was hardly a “boondoggle.” FEMA's Sandy response actually drew widespread praise, including from Republican Governors like New Jersey's Chris Christie, who said FEMA had done an “outstanding” job, and Virginia's Bob McDonnell, who said the federal response had been “incredibly fast.” As U.S. News & World Report White House correspondent Kenneth Walsh wrote on his daily blog shortly after the storm, “President Obama has done well in managing the crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy so far, while President George W. Bush botched the job of handling Hurricane Katrina in 2005.”
In fact, under President Obama, FEMA not only responded quickly to Hurricane Sandy; the experience of the storm also helped inspire the very FEMA policy that GOP senators and the Review-Journal are now claiming is “unnecessary.” As the Center for Strategic & International Studies detailed in a policy paper published one year after the storm, “Hurricane Sandy ... intensified the debate surrounding the need to harden our infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change”:
Whereas before the focus of the debate had often centered on whether storms were caused or strengthened by climate change, Hurricane Sandy brought to the fore a broader, sustained discussion on the need for adaptation and the importance of resiliency efforts that had long been debated in academic, corporate, and policy circles and in areas often hard-hit by hurricanes, like the Gulf Coast. After Hurricane Sandy, the focus was squarely on how to move forward with longer-term preparedness and recovery efforts.
Resiliency has increasingly become a buzzword, especially as climatic events occur with greater frequency. Hurricane Sandy, while only one of many weather related events that impacted US energy systems in recent years, intensified the debate surrounding the need to harden our infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change that events prior had been unable to do.
It isn't surprising that the Review-Journal is harshly criticizing FEMA for seeking to reduce the risk from climate-related extreme weather events, given the newspaper's long history of denigrating environmental causes. But the impacts of climate change are very real in Nevada and the rest of the Southwest U.S., including dangerous heat waves and wildfires, and more intense and frequent droughts that threaten water supplies and agriculture. Rather than deny that climate change is even a problem, the Review-Journal should acknowledge the real threats Nevadans face.