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Climate-change costs could rise by $35 billion a year within decades: Report

The nonpartisan report comes as the Trump administration continues to roll back efforts to fight climate change.
Climate Change Cost Hurricane Maria
Photo: Getty Images

The cost of climate change could rise by $35 billion a year by mid-century, and the federal government should develop a strategy to manage climate-change risks, a new report by the nonpartisan General Accountability Office says.

The report, prepared at the request of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, comes as President Trump continues to roll back the environmental initiatives of the Obama administration, and a new estimate shows the cost of 2017's hurricanes and wildfires nearly matches what the federal government spent on weather-recovery efforts over the last decade.

"Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money, and these costs will likely increase over time as the climate continues to change," said the report, which noted that extreme fire and weather events have cost the government $350 billion over the last decade per the Office of Management and Budget.

Preliminary government estimates show that economic losses related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the wildfires in nine western states this year alone will top $300 billion.

"Our government cannot afford to spend more than $300 billion each year in response to severe weather events that are connected to warming waters, which produce stronger hurricanes,” said Collins.

The report means the federal government will need to pay "trillions more in the future unless we mitigate the impacts," said Cantwell, whose home state of Washington was affected by wildfires this year.

The GAO recommended that White House executive offices, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, use available economic reports to "craft appropriate federal responses."

Trump, a climate-change denier, has not appointed a chief scientific policy officer.

This week, it was reported that dozens of resources to help state and local governments prepare for the effects of climate change had been scrubbed from the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

Trump has filled key environmental positions with climate-change skeptics and advocates for chemical industries: Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the EPA, does not agree with scientific consensus that human activity is the source of climate change and has sued the EPA 14 times over environmental regulations. Trump's nominee to chair the Commission on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett-White, is a climate-change skeptic who once called carbon dioxide "the gas of life on this planet" and has called efforts to combat climate change an attack on the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times reported Sunday that Nancy Beck, a new top deputy in the EPA's toxic chemical unit, jointed the agency from the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's top trade association.