Congress has finally passed a long-awaited supplemental appropriations bill to bring relief to those affected by Superstorm Sandy and to promote better preparedness for future disasters.
On top of the $9 billion agreed to in early January for direct flood insurance claims, the supplemental provides $50 billion for community rebuilding and future storm readiness, as well as a small amount in fisheries disaster relief. Despite a push from coastal Members to increase the fisheries funding, the final bill included only $5 million for communities affected by Sandy-related fisheries disasters—a far cry from the $150 million that the Senate originally approved in November.
Monday’s passage wraps up a months-long fight between the Senate and House largely over the bill’s price tag. The original Senate-approved bill totaled $64 billion, including funding for flood insurance, rebuilding, and the fisheries disaster relief, among other things.
The bill also stipulated that the $150 million in fisheries relief would be available for all fisheries disasters that the Commerce Secretary officially declared in 2012, not just those related to Sandy. These included the Northeast groundfish, Alaska pollock, and Mississippi oyster fisheries, each of which suffered from other natural disasters in 2012. The House balked at including non-Sandy-related relief, along with the overall cost, and ultimately punted the bill to the new Congress.
When the new Congress took up the bill on January 3, the fisheries disaster funding quickly became a target for elimination. Rep. Randy Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) proposed limiting the fisheries aid to $5 million, sparking outrage from colleagues who represent fishing communities along the Atlantic coast. Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), John Tierney (D-MA), and others attempted to restore the fisheries aid to the Senate-passed level, but House Republicans opposed their efforts. In the end, the House agreed only to the $5 million, leaving it up to the Senate to decide whether to fight for additional funds. And despite opposition from a number of coastal Senators, the Senate agreed to the House-passed bill—including the $5 million in fisheries aid—in order to finalize the package and get the long-awaited relief to those in need.
Oceana supported this fishery disaster funding to support struggling fishing communities and to help coastal communities rebuild, provided that the funds do not facilitate activities that jeopardize ocean health. According to federal guidelines, fishery disaster funds can be used to repair or restore fishing equipment and infrastructure, compensate for losses, restore fisheries habitat, support workforce education, provide low-interest loans, and conduct monitoring and cooperative research focused on improving stock assessments. They cannot be used to support activities that would jeopardize the health of the fisheries.
As a record-breaking hurricane pummeled the Northeast almost into November--this on the heels of a scorching summer that saw arctic ice shrivel to its smallest extent ever recorded--the specter of climate change lurks just under the surface of any discussion of what can only be described as our freakish recent weather.
Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research talked to Slate about Sandy:
Most of what is going on with Sandy is weather, and there is a large chance element to it, but it is all occurring in an environment where the ocean is a bit warmer, the air above the ocean is warmer and moister, and that is fuel for the storm and especially adds to the risk of heavy rainfalls and flooding.
After the necessary caveats about tying any one event to global warming, the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert despairs about the notable absence of the elephant-in-the-room issue in our electoral politics.
The storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change . . .”
Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque. In a year of record-breaking temperatures across the U.S., record drought conditions in the country’s corn belt, and now a record storm affecting the nation’s most populous cities, neither candidate found the issue to be worthy of discussion.”
Environmentalist and journalist Bill McKibben, who earlier this year penned a jeremiad in Rolling Stone about climate change that went viral, sees in Sandy a frightful spectacle not unlike Frankenstein's monster, as he writes in the Daily Beast:
Our relationship to the world around us is shifting as fast as that world is shifting. “Frankenstorm” is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They’re stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.
Sandy was likely influenced by a combination of factors that we know are tied to climate change such as a melting Arctic, a warming Atlantic Ocean and rising sea levels, but to what extent is not yet known. But under the water, and out of sight, the effects of emissions are just as severe. The oceans are absorbing 90 percent of the heat from climate change and carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans have led to a 30 percent increase in the ocean's acidity since the Industrial Revolution, a trend that threatens to topple coral reefs and food chains worldwide in the coming decades.
Learn more about climate change, what Oceana is doing to fight it, and what you can do to help.