Climate Change Fades From Sandy Debate

“The elephant in this room that needs to be spoken about is the impact of climate change,” says Edwards.

Seth Wenig, File / AP

WASHINGTON — The Washington conversation about Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath has shifted quickly from concern about climate change to a fight over federal cash.

One week after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lobbied Congress for disaster relief funding to supplement Sandy recovery efforts, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee considered the state of the recovery on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and the central question was the place and expense of the federal role in disaster recovery.

“Hurricane Sandy should be a major wake-up call,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. “When disaster strikes, our densely populated urban areas and economic centers must be able to recover quickly.”

But the overarching problem at issue — that of climate change and the superstorms that scientists say will become more common as a result — was scarcely mentioned.

“The elephant in this room that needs to be spoken about is the impact of climate change,” said Rep. Donna Edwards in her opening statement, which was an exception to that rule. She added, “I think we have to rethink and rebuild our infrastructure in those terms.”

The committee focused instead on the question of how to support states and cities financially in the wake of the superstorm.

When Bloomberg visited Capitol Hill last week, he lobbied lawmakers for $15 billion in non-FEMA money for New York City alone. The state of New York is requesting an additional $42 billion.

On Tuesday, appearing before the House committee, FEMA chief Craig Fugate said $1.93 billion has so far been committed from FEMA’s disaster relief fund for Sandy recovery efforts, out of $7.1 billion available funds. The remaining money, FEMA has said, will likely run out by spring.

With New York and New Jersey in particular, Fugate said, “We’re using estimates, we’re not waiting for final numbers” to send money for recovery efforts.

“We have been pushing to get cash back into the communities faster,” he added.

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