Weather Costs

By Beacon Staff

I was buying black licorice in Arlee when the Jocko Fire had just exploded in the mountains far outside the store window. By the next day nearly 2,000 acres burned. Hopefully it soon rains long and steady.

There are numerous fires burning in Montana, all of which thirst for a good long rain. Most people acknowledge that summers are hotter and dryer. Indeed, the last dozen years comprised most of the hottest years ever recorded.

Congress should act and debate the changing climate. But that’s asking a lot from the 113th Congress. It’s on fast track to become the most do-nothing Congress ever. Congress can’t even perform the most rudimentary task like passing a budget. The U.S. House even stripped funding to feed hungry people from the Farm Bill.

It’s time Congress smartens up. Natural disasters are bigger and more expensive than ever before. Hurricane Sandy alone will cost more than $60 billion.

Congress is paid handsomely to represent people. Members earn $174,000 annually. They’re scheduled to work a paltry 125 days in session this year. In the past years that the House has been voting to repeal subsidized health care for Montanans, Congress has benefited from golden health care and paid retirement.

Taxpayers spend $100 million per year on salaries and benefits for a do-nothing Congress. Today Congress is on its next five-week long recess. Undoubtedly, citizens will hear plenty about “too much regulation” and how “government is inefficient.”

Hopefully, the White House and Democrats put climate change policy on the front burner. The president indicated that he plans on working while Congress vacations.

As part of the stalled Farm Bill, Congress is spending $120 billion dollars over the decade to protect mostly GMO crops and farmers’ income from bigger weather risks. Last year, weather-related crop losses were the largest ever with costs only increasing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken an active role in talking to farmers on why hotter and dryer summers are bad news for production. Luckily, Montana’s non-GMO grown wheat yields are looking great, thanks to timely rains.

Republicans like former Secretary of State George Shultz have taken notice. Shultz worked for the Reagan administration that infamously removed solar panels from the White House roof.

Shultz negotiated regulations that kept ozone depletion in check in the 1980s and now calls reducing energy research and development “a bad mistake.”

President Barack Obama pledged to get his administration active. So far, not much has changed, but Montana Rep. Steve Daines called the president’s call for action “a war on American energy.”

Sen. Jon Tester was more pragmatic about the president “kicking off this discussion.” Montana is prone to extreme drought and floods.

At USDA, researchers are helping determine which breeds of plants tolerate increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while producing good yields.

Congress will spend huge amounts of taxpayer money paying for a changing climate by protecting farmers from ever-increasing weather risks, rebuilding after gigantic storms, and paying young firefighters to risk their lives protecting property from raging forest fires. It would be cheaper to enact simple industry regulations.

When Midwest energy producers threatened the maple sugar industry of northeastern United States, the capital cost for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution scrubbers proved much lower than the perpetual cost of acid rain. The same proved true for Shultz with the use of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons and it will again prove true with today’s carbon dioxide.

Hotter and dryer summers will vastly impact food and farming. The soil conservation in Senate Farm Bill will help. The House is sadly on a dangerous tract ignoring these real life issues facing farmers and Montanans. These matters won’t be solved over night, but it’s time to get to work.

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