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Obama's Plans for Adapting to Climate Change Rely On Local Action

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McCarthy and the Obama administration have advocated working with local governments and in local communities to show that proactively addressing the effects of global warming can produce tangible improvements in the daily lives of Americans.

The EPA may not have many friends in Congress, but the Obama administration is focused on making them where it counts when it comes to advancing the president’s climate agenda: at the local level.

Since President Barack Obama outlined his plan to address climate change, the EPA’s proposals to restrict power plant emissions of greenhouse gases have drawn most of the attention. But a second pillar of the president’s agenda centers on adapting to the impacts of climate change and making infrastructure more resilient.

Those concepts will be implemented largely by local governments. That gives the White House the opportunity to work on the ground with communities to deliver the message that proactively addressing the effects of global warming can produce tangible improvements in the daily lives of Americans.

“We know that climate change is real — the science is there — but I honestly think that if you start working on adaptation and resilience issues community by community with mayors that are being really aggressive on these issues, it not only makes climate come alive for people in a way that our lofty discussion of science in China doesn’t make it for communities across the U.S.,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said last week. “And it also brings to life the fact that the actions you need to take to address climate can be important steppingstones for local economies, for job growth, also for water issues that have been so plaguing us.”

Communicating about climate change in a way that helps citizens understand how it affects them is one challenge inherent in the Obama administration’s three-pronged climate action effort. But when it comes to implementing preparedness policies, the larger challenge is coordination among different levels of government. Many of the decisions about local infrastructure — such as siting new structures in areas where they will be at less risk of flooding or wildfires — are ultimately influenced by both state and federal policies.

As a prime example of how local communities are impacted by federal policy decisions about infrastructure resiliency, Cindy Lerner, mayor of Pinecrest, Fla., in Miami-Dade County, cited a proposal before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow expansion of a nuclear power plant on Biscayne Bay in South Florida — where sea level rise is regarded as inevitable.

“My hope is, at the federal level, that the EPA and climate action task force and others will start paying attention to those kind of infrastructure needs and the responsibility that we should all have to stopping stupid,” Lerner said.

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