Creating a Climate Resilient America

Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 9:00am
2247 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
Creating a Climate Resilient America

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is holding a hearing on “Creating a Climate Resilient America” on Thursday May 23 at 9 a.m. in Room 2247 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Opening statement from Rep. Kathy Castor

"The climate crisis isn’t somebody else’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem." - U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

Read Rep. Castor's opening statement

Witness Testimony and Resources

Noah Diffenbaugh is a Professor in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment (@StanfordWoods). He recently completed a term as editor-in-chief of Geophysical Research Letters, a leading peer-reviewed journal in climate science and has advised multiple government bodies on climate science. He received his PhD in earth sciences from the University of California Santa Cruz. (Bio)

Read a copy of Dr. Diffenbaugh's testimony.


The costs of climate change are increasing and scientists are increasingly seeing how it makes disasters worse.

For each 1˚C of warming, the United States is expected to lose 1% of economic output, with poorer counties suffering more than richer ones. 

Limiting warming to just 1.5˚C compared to 2˚C could reduce economic damage in the United States by $6 trillion. And it could save the world $20 trillion.

There's clear evidence that the frequency of extremes is increasing and that the cost of extreme weather is rising. Global warming has increased the odds of record-setting hot and wet events by 75% and the odds of record-setting dry spells by 50%.

NOAA tracks billion-dollar disaster events over time:


NOAA - Billion Dollar Disasters

Scientists have also detected the fingerprints of global warming on some individual extreme weather events, "including heatwaves, cold snaps, heavy rainfall, floods, droughts, and the precipitation and storm surge delivered by tropical cycles."

California is integrating climate change into its infrastructure planning. The California Climate-Safe Infrastructure Working Group’s recent report "is a prime example of a roadmap that integrates mitigation, adaptation and 'an integral commitment to remedying past injustice.'"

"The good news for our country is that, although climate change is already impacting Americans, there are many opportunities for us to become more resilient, and in doing so build a more vibrant, secure, and equitable nation." - Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh


Rachel Cleetus is the policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (@UCSUSA), where she researchers clean energy, climate resilience, and international climate policy. Dr. Cleetus holds a PhD and an MA in economics from Duke University and a BS in economics from West Virginia University. (Bio)

Read a copy of Dr. Cleetus's testimony.


Rising seas are already hurting people and places on our coasts. "By 2045, within the lifetime of a typical mortgage issued today, about 325,000 coastal properties worth $136 billion will be at risk of chronic flooding." This can reduce the value of people's property, increase the cost of flood insurance, and reduce tax revenue for local governments. Forty percent of the most at-risk communities have above-average poverty rates, which means people there are less able to cope with chronic flooding.

UCS has produced an interactive U.S. map that shows the coastal homes facing increased chronic flooding.

UCS coastal flooding maps
Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists. Data provided by third parties through the Zillow Transaction and Assessment Dataset (ZTRAX)

Chronic flooding also presents significant risks for Amtrak's Northeast rail lines and at least 18 U.S. military installations.

Heavy rainfall is another way the climate crisis makes coastal storms more powerful. During Hurricane Harvey, more than 650 energy and industrial facilities may have been exposed to floodwaters according to a UCS analysisWhen these facilities are flooded, it can disrupt services to communities as they attempt to recover from storms, including at wasterwater treatment plants and it can expose fenceline communities to toxic pollution.

Harvey - Facilities facing heavy rainfall


Climate change hurts our health in other ways, too. Extreme heat makes air pollution worse and increases incidences of heat strokes and heart attacks. Higher temperatures also lead to a larger range for West Nile virus and more toxic algal blooms, among other effects. 

Extreme heat and climate change


Dr. Cleetus's recommendations:

  • The federal government must communicate risks and incorporate them into its own policies and actions.
  • We must fund post-disaster recovery so aid can flow to hard-hit communities.
  • Post-disaster investments should reduce future risks, including through home buyouts and flood-proofing.
  • Research shows that every $1 invested in disaster mitigation can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs. We have to get out ahead of risks.
  • Ramp up investments in FEMA’s pre-disaster hazard mitigation grants and HUD's community development block grants.
  • The National Flood Insurance Program requires reforms to map and communicate all types of flood risks.
  • A federal flood risk management standard would protect vital infrastructure.
  • Congress should set up a diverse and inclusive advisory body to target investments in underserved and marginalized communities.
  • Stronger state and local building and zoning regulations—as well as coastal zone management rules—can ensure flood-smart development.
  • Communities in high-risk areas may need relocation grants and communities receiving an influx of new residents may need financial resources, too.
  • Major financial actors in coastal areas should establish guidelines to incorporate sea-level rise into their business models.

"Most importantly, we must make deep cuts in heat-trapping emissions to contribute to global efforts to limit climate change." - Dr. Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists


Matt Russell is the executive director of Iowa Interfaith Power and Light (@IowaIPL) and a fifth-generation Iowa farmer. He previously worked for the Drake Univesity Agricultural Law Center, Iowa Citizen Action Network and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. He also served on the Iowa Farm Service Agency State Committee for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Bio)

Read a copy of Matt Russell's testimony.


"We must start believing in American farmers. We can solve global warming by unleashing the power of American farmers to solve problems." - Matt Russel, Iowa Interfaith Power and Light

USDA - Farmer

A major climate solution we can embrace is to pay farmers for building soil health and sequestering carbon. "Carbon farming" can revolutionize agricultural and environmental policy, help us clean our water and air, save our soils, and stabilize our food system and rural economies. And climate resilience and cutting carbon pollution go hand-in-hand. For instance, improving soil health, by planting cover crops, can improve resilience in the face of flooding.

Iowa Interfaith Power and Light is gathering farmers in church basements to talk about how their faith calls them to embrace climate action on their farms. Many farmers are ready to act, but the current combination of public policy and markets creates a situation where farmers investing in better conservation and environmental stewardship carry more risk than farmers who don't.

Matthew Russell's recommendations:

  • Work with farmers to develop smart public policy for farmer and market led climate action.
  • Help unleash the power of capitalism to reward entrepreneurs for developing small businesses that can help defeat the climate crisis.
  • Incentivize farmers and rural communities to lead on climate action in a bipartisan way.
  • Recognize that carbon farming is an expedient and cost-effective way to reduce emissions.

Organizations like the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance are also sharing frameworks with farmers for integrating climate resilience and cutting carbon pollution into how they do business. 

Climate Smart Agriculture Framework

Last century, farmers innovated to lead the Green Revolution and feed the world. "We’re at a similar, pivotal moment in human history. We are facing a catastrophic crisis; the greatest crisis humans have ever faced. American farmers can again lead the world through this crisis and into a future that is even more abundant than our past."


Keith Hodges is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, where he represents the 98th district. He is the Co-Chair for the Virginia General Assembly Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding and serves as a member of the General Assembly State Water Commission. (Bio)

Read a copy of Keith Hodges's testimony.


Coastal, rural areas are already grappling with flooding. Mathews County, which sits on the Chesapeake Bay, has just 9,000 people but has already suffered a $65 million dollar loss of land value directly and indirectly due to flooding. 

Keith Hodges's experiences at the state level:

  • Looking at legislation and regulations in a more holistic and innovative way.
  • Installing living shorelines, which improve water quality and resiliency.
  • Created ways – through the Virginia Waterway Maintenance Fund – to give localities more options to use dredged materials for resiliency. 
  • Examining how to insure risk more properly and creatively, including insuring nature based flood mitigation strategies.
  • Launching a new campaign to make it cheaper for property owners to protect themselves from flooding.
  • Through the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Fund, identifying ways to build and harness intellectual capital to respond to flooding.


Dr. Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director, Climate and Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists

Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh
Kara J Foundation Professor and Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow, Stanford University

The Honorable Keith Hodges
Virginia State Delegate, 98th District of Virginia

Mr. Matthew Russell
Farmer; Executive Director, Iowa Interfaith Power and Light

116th Congress