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Policy Matters

Small business backs new climate disaster legislation

To mitigate major hurricanes, floods and fires, hope for the best and plan for the worst.

If you’ve ever been through really severe weather, you know how terrifying it can be. In some cases, fear is just the beginning, when houses, businesses, neighborhoods or whole communities essentially are wiped out.

We’re all familiar with places such as Tornado Alley, where underground shelters are fairly common, although not required. Along with early warning systems, these shelters are the best tool for saving lives. But tornadoes aren’t the only severe weather events that can paralyze communities, and Tornado Alley isn’t the only place vulnerable to them.

That’s why the introduction of a new bill, the National Mitigation Investment Act, is so important. It would help states pass stronger building codes that would make communities better able to handle severe weather events, and would provide additional funding to help them do so.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) and has strong bi-partisan support among its 19 co-sponsors. The bill also has earned the support of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC).

If passed, this bill could help communities to prepare for the worst impacts of climate-related weather events — important because, even as we work to limit greenhouse gases, we must recognize that some damage is probably irreversible.

Learning from Sandy

While the bill itself does not specifically mention climate change, and its impact would not be limited to climate-related disasters, it’s fairly obvious how it could be used to help communities recover from such an event.

Take Superstorm Sandy, an event that, while probably not caused by climate change, very well might have been intensified by it. New York City was inundated with water, residents were left without power for days and only after an enormous amount of hardship did the city start to return to normal. And that was only New York City — the storm’s impact in the United States alone ranged from North Carolina to Maine.

Sandy ended up being the deadliest Atlantic storm on record. It killed 159 people, affected more than 300,000 business properties and caused $65 billion in damage. While this was an unusual and particularly vicious storm, and some damage was inevitable no matter what preparations might have been taken, the economic impact was nonetheless massive, and it took a huge amount of resources to pick the region back up. It’s an experience no one can afford to simply hope will not occur again.

With the bipartisan National Mitigation Investment Act, Congress is actually thinking like business owners.

The National Mitigation Investment Act would let states with approved building codes take advantage of additional funding for mitigation assistance. The combination of better codes and funding assistance could help limit, if not avoid, damage from severe weather events. In addition to potentially saving lives, the bill would help protect homes and businesses, thus limiting economic losses and hardships that have devastated other communities.

A strong foundation

Some cities are already thinking ahead. Miami has installed 60 pumps, at a total cost of $300 million, to help move water out of city streets if the sea level rises. In many cases, sea level rise is caused by extreme high tides, but as glaciers melt and overall sea levels rise, there is very real concern that Miami as a city may not survive.

Miami isn’t alone. Coastal communities nationwide face a whole host of risks, including flooding, changes in water quality and a variety of impacts from severe storms. For the business community, these risks are potentially devastating. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), almost 40 percent of small businesses affected by natural disasters never reopen.

Small business owners are very concerned about climate change. Polling from ASBC found that nearly one in five already had been affected by climate change, and more than 30 percent thought it would affect them at some point. It’s still crucial for us to reduce emissions, but with carbon emissions reaching record levels, we must recognize that completely stopping climate change is all but impossible and start planning for robust mitigation.

"While it is important that we address the causes of climate change, it is important to prepare for the effects we cannot prevent," ASBC’s letter supporting the bill (PDF) read in part.

Making climate change bipartisan

More members of Congress, including Curbelo, the bill’s chief sponsor, are recognizing that climate change must be a bipartisan issue. "A crucial step in the right direction is moving past the debate of whether or not climate change is real and towards solutions that will mitigate its detrimental effect on our communities," his website states.

Curbelo, whose district includes part of Miami-Dade County, Key West and the Everglades, represents a part of the country that is particularly vulnerable. But he’s not alone: Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), another co-sponsor, represents part of Tornado Alley, while a number of others represent Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York — all states affected by Sandy.

Scientists’ consensus on climate change is as strong as any you will see in the scientific community, and the stakes are as high for business owners as for everyone else. As business owners will tell you, business survival can depend on planning for the worst-case scenario, even as you hope things turn out better. With the bipartisan National Mitigation Investment Act, Congress is actually thinking like business owners.

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