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Climate Inaction is Fiscally Irresponsible, Says GAO

By Jan Lee

The well-used expression "climate change" may have been relegated to the dustbins of history by the Environmental Protection Agency last August, but when it comes the opinions of scientists, clergy and kids, it's still got traction. Especially when it comes to discussing what the Trump administration has yet to do.

Government Accountability Office

In October, about a week after the Napa, Calif. fires started, the Government Accountability Office sent Trump a report. Its message -- all 45 pages worth -- was clear: Climate change is costing the U.S. government money. Too much money.

According to the GAO's figuring, climate-related events like the hurricanes and tropical storm that had only recently pummeled Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the fires that have ravaged California  are costing the U.S. government billions. And that cost of course is being passed on to taxpayers.

"As an initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage climate risks, we recommended that the Executive Office of the President use information on economic effects to help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses," the GAO said. To make its point, the agency cited more than 20 different ways that climate change had already impacted the economy.

And if that polite but distracting missive wasn't enough, the Democratic senators who had initially ordered the report, Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wa.) and Susan Collins (Maine), were determined to make sure the issue was overlooked.

“The Government Accountability Office — if you will, the chief bean counter — is basically telling us that this is costing us a lot of money,” Cantwell told the New York Times. “We need to understand that as stewards of the taxpayer that climate is a fiscal issue."

The GAO's findings incorporate the results of more than 25 interviews with climate change scientists and 30 independent studies. Its conclusions focus in particular on two national studies, one of which is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The GAO, which is best known for statistical precision, seems to have made climate change a focal concern. Since the release of that report, it has released several other recommendations urging agencies to step up their climate mitigation efforts.

Catholic Climate Covenant

Nor is the GAO alone in those efforts. In November, a contingent of 161 Catholic organizations spoke up, urging the president to take a leadership role in addressing climate change. The group, which includes colleges, universities, health care providers and voters from across the country, also urged Congress to take a more prominent role in fighting global warming issues.

"On behalf of people who are poor and vulnerable and future generations, we especially ask that you act based upon the best available climate science," the Catholic Climate Covenant letter states.

The organizations want the president to back a Senate bill that would authorize $10 million to the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an agency that Trump pulled the US out of last spring. They also want the government to reengage with the UNFCCC and support the Green Climate Fund.

Kids' challenge to the Trump administration

But the President's most formidable opponent on climate change may be his very smallest.

On Monday a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco began considering an effort by 21 young people, ages 10 to 21, to sue the Trump administration for failing to act on climate change and protect their interests.

The suit, Juliana v. the U.S., which was initially filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015 against the Obama administration, states that "through the government's affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources."

A trial date was set earlier this year for February, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted the case after the Justice Department attempted to block the case.

The government however, is arguing that the suit is based on "utterly unprecedented legal theories" and "unbounded" research. Federal attorneys argue that the suit would be "burdensome" to the administration and would keep it from doing its duties it it were to proceed.

Should the suit be allowed to go ahead, Trump may face an even greater challenge in this lawsuit than his predecessor. The plaintiffs may be able to argue that many of Trump's executive decisions could have a direct impact on the country's ability to slow global warming, both at home an in partnership with other countries.

The judges must now decide on whether to intervene or permit the case to proceed. They are due to announce a decision within the next few months. Experts have pointed out that if the case goes ahead, the administration may ultimately try again to argue that the suit is onerous -- but this time because it would require the government to unearth years of climate studies and data that it isn't prepared to release to the courts.

Image: Government Accountability Office


Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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