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GAO Highlights Financial Risks to Government of Climate Change

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office on Thursday identified climate change as posing serious financial risks to the U.S. government, fueling further calls by Democrats for actions to curb emissions.

In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Comptroller General of the United States Gene L. Dodaro announced that the GAO for the first time is adding climate change to its list of highest risks to the U.S. government.

“Climate change poses risks to many environmental and economic systems — including agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems and human health — and presents a significant financial risk to the federal government,” Dodaro said in prepared testimony.

Among the risks that Dodaro cited include the impact of global warming on the vast amounts of property and infrastructure owned by the federal government, growing liability for the federal flood and crop insurance programs, the need for increased technical aid for state and local governments, as well as more disaster assistance to help areas stricken by extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. Congress already has appropriated more than $60 billion in aid for Northeastern states slammed by the storm last fall.

Democrats immediately cited the GAO’s decision to call for a greater focus on curbing emissions. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight panel, sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., urging a series of hearings into the GAO’s findings on climate risks.

“GAO’s landmark decision to list climate change in its High Risk Report is a critical wake-up call for Congress and the country,” Cummings, D-Md., said in a written statement. “Although some may continue to disregard the science, this report warns that climate change is real, it is here now, and the economic consequences to our nation will be catastrophic if Congress ignores it any longer.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who along with Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., co-chairs a new bicameral task force on climate change, said the GAO’s decision “sharpens our focus on the threat that climate change poses to infrastructure, our financial well-being and way of life.”

While comprehensive climate change legislation still is considered politically unfeasible, Sens. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., will unveil a bill Thursday that would impose a fee on carbon emissions, with the revenue used to fund efficiency and renewable technologies.

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