Category Archives: US Government Accountability Office

GAO: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

Repost from the Los Angeles Daily News
[Editor: This came to us in an E-Alert from Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who wrote, “The red lights are flashing – hottest summers and fall, greatest hurricane force, worst fires in history of California, lives lost, air pollution killing millions, and all of this is costing us billions… …rising sea level will affect structures near the Benicia waterfront at 6 feet above current sea level.  Our water (sewer) will be affected by rising sea level before 2050.  Our water supply may be uncertain.  We can mitigate and adapt….”  – RS]

US Government Accountability Office: Climate change already costing U.S. billions in losses

By Michael Biesecker, Associated Press, October 23, 2017 8:13 pm
california wildfires
Sarah Boryszewski is helped by her father Gerald Peete as they dig for belongings in the remains of Boryszewski’s home in Coffey Park, Friday Oct. 20, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Northern California residents who fled a wildfire in the dead of night with only minutes to spare returned to their neighborhoods Friday for the first time in nearly two weeks to see if anything was standing. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

WASHINGTON — A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.

A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year’s three major hurricanes and wildfires, expected to be among the most costly in the nation’s history.

The report predicts these costs will only grow in the future, potentially reaching a budget busting $35 billion a year by 2050. The report says the federal government doesn’t effectively plan for these recurring costs, classifying the financial exposure from climate-related costs as “high risk.”

“The federal government has not undertaken strategic government-wide planning to manage climate risks by using information on the potential economic effects of climate change to identify significant risks and craft appropriate federal responses,” the study said. “By using such information, the federal government could take the initial step in establishing government-wide priorities to manage such risks.”

GAO undertook the study following a request from Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“This nonpartisan GAO report Senator Cantwell and I requested contains astonishing numbers about the consequences of climate change for our economy and for the federal budget in particular,” said Collins. “In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment. We are experiencing a real change in the sea life, which has serious implications for the livelihoods of many people across our state, including those who work in our iconic lobster industry.”

The report’s authors reviewed 30 government and academic studies examining the national and regional impacts of climate change. They also interviewed 28 experts familiar with the strengths and limitations of the studies, which rely on future projections of climate impacts to estimate likely costs.

The report says the fiscal impacts of climate change are likely to vary widely by region. The Southeast is at increased risk because of coastal property that could be swamped by storm surge and sea level rise. The Midwest and Great Plains are susceptible to decreased crop yields, the report said. The west is expected to see increased drought, wildfires and deadly heatwaves.

Advance copies were provided to the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, which provided no official comments for inclusion in the GAO report.

Requests for comment from The Associated Press also received no response on Monday.

President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax, announcing his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accords and revoke Obama-era initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has also appointed officials such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, all of whom question the scientific consensus that carbon released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of global warming.

Earlier this month Trump nominated Kathleen Hartnett White of Texas to serve as his top environmental adviser at the White House. She has credited the fossil fuel industry with “vastly improved living conditions across the world” and likened the work of mainstream climate scientists to “the dogmatic claims of ideologues and clerics.”

White, who works at a conservative think tank that has received funding from fossil-fuel companies, holds academic degrees in East Asian studies and comparative literature.

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    GAO report on rail shipping trends and community congestion

    Repost from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO)
    [Editor: RESEARCHERS TAKE NOTE…this newly released GAO report has significant findings regarding the upsurge in rail shipments of crude and its impact on traffic congestion on the rails and at crossings.   Unfortunately, the data is only as of 2012.  Still, the 75-page report itself is rich with references to crude by rail and charts that might prove useful.   – RS]

    Freight Transportation: Developing National Strategy Would Benefit from Added Focus on Community Congestion Impacts

    GAO-14-740: Published: Sep 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2014

    What GAO Found

    Recent trends in freight flows, if they continue as expected, may exacerbate congestion issues in communities, particularly along certain corridors. As of 2012, the latest year for which data were available, national freight rail and truck traffic had approached levels of 2007 prior to the economic recession. Certain trends related to specific commodities have affected rail flows, including increases in domestic crude oil production [emphasis added].  A key negative impact of increasing freight flows is congestion at highway-rail grade crossings, where road traffic must wait to cross the tracks when trains are passing. For example, a Miami-area study found that rail crossings in the area caused delays of roughly 235,000 person-hours per year at a cost of $2.4 million. Although several communities we visited had documented long-standing concerns over freight-related traffic congestion, state and local stakeholders we met with had varying levels of quantified information regarding the extent of the impacts or costs to the community. For example, in contrast to the Miami study, another study we reviewed included some information on train counts, but did not document hours of delay or any costs associated with such delays.

    The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) efforts to implement the freight-related provisions of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) are still underway but so far do not fully consider freight-related traffic congestion. MAP-21’s freight policy goals do not explicitly include addressing freight-related traffic congestion, but MAP-21 requires DOT to identify best practices to mitigate the impacts of freight movement on communities in a national freight strategic plan, which is due in October 2015. MAP-21’s requirements and DOT’s efforts so far do not fully establish the federal role or identify goals, objectives, or performance measures in this area, which may limit the usefulness of the National Freight Strategic Plan . For example:

    DOT issued for comment a required draft primary freight network, but according to DOT and other stakeholders, MAP-21’s lack of defined purpose for the primary freight network and mileage limit of 27,000 miles hampered DOT’s ability to include in this draft network some types of roads where local traffic congestion impacts of national freight movements are often experienced, such as roads connecting ports to freeways. The significance of the 27,000 mileage limitation is not clear. DOT released a surface transportation reauthorization proposal in April 2014 that proposed establishing a multimodal national freight network with a defined purpose and with no mileage limit.

    DOT is currently developing the Freight Transportation Conditions and Performance Report , which is to support the National Freight Strategic Plan . For this and other documents, DOT established a broad goal to reduce freight-related community impacts. However, DOT did not identify clear goals, objectives, or measures related to freight-related traffic congestion in local communities due to a lack of reliable national data. Thus, a clear federal role has not been established. High-quality data are essential to supporting sound planning and decision-making. Without reliable national data, it will be difficult for DOT to establish goals and objectives and to define the extent of freight-related traffic congestion and measure performance.

    Why GAO Did This Study

    Projected increases in the transport of freight by rail and truck may produce economic benefits but also increase traffic congestion in communities. MAP-21, which contains a number of provisions designed to enhance freight mobility, is currently before Congress for reauthorization. GAO was asked to review trends in freight flows and any related traffic-congestion impacts.

    This report addresses among other things: (1) recent changes in U.S. rail and truck freight flows and the extent to which related traffic congestion is reported to impact communities, and (2) the extent to which DOT’s efforts to implement MAP-21 address freight-related traffic congestion in communities. GAO analyzed rail data from 2007 through 2012 and highway data from 2010 and 2012 and reviewed 24 freight-related traffic congestion mitigation projects at 12 locations selected on the basis of different geographical locations and sizes. The results are not generalizable. GAO also reviewed federal laws and interviewed freight stakeholders.

    What GAO Recommends

    Congress should consider clarifying the purpose of the primary freight network and, as relevant to this purpose, revising the mileage limit requirement.

    DOT should clarify the federal role for mitigating local freight-related congestion in the National Freight Strategic Plan , including a strategy for improving needed data. DOT concurred with the recommendations.

    For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-4431 or flemings@gao.gov.
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      Fed GAO report critical of Department of Transportation, warns of more accidents

      Repost from NBC News

      More Fiery Oil Train, Pipeline Accidents Unless Government Acts: Report

      September 22, 2014

      If the U.S. doesn’t quickly address the safe transportation of oil and gas, Americans could pay the price with more fiery train and pipeline accidents, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

      “Without timely action to address safety risks posed by increased transport of oil and gas by pipeline and rail, additional accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated may endanger the public and call into question the readiness of transportation networks in the new oil and gas environment,” found the report.

      The GAO report focused on the safety of moving crude oil by train and the growing network of “gathering lines,” largely unregulated natural gas pipelines. Both have been subjects of recent investigations by NBC News. The GAO determined that the Department of Transportation had “not kept pace with the changing oil and gas transportation environment.”

      Oil and gas production in the U.S. increased more than fivefold between 2007 and 2012, a boom brought on by technological advances in drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Vast volumes of oil and gas production soon outstripped the pipeline infrastructure in place to move them.

      Crude producers began to load their oil on trains. More than 400,000 carloads of crude ran over North American rails in 2013, up from just 9,500 in 2008. But a series of explosive wrecks have raised concern about the safety of oil trains — the worst, a 2013 derailment outside a small Quebec town, killed nearly 50 people.

      A 2013 NBC News investigation found regulators had long known that the tank cars used to ship oil were vulnerable to rupture in an accident.

      The DOT has since issued proposed rules to improve the train cars that carry oil. In its report, the GAO applauded the move, but emphasized safety improvements must go beyond the cars, including testing the makeup of the oil, which the DOT has said is particularly flammable.

      The GAO also warned better oversight was needed over the growing network of “gathering pipelines” that move natural gas from the well. In August, an investigation by NBC News found that 250,000 miles of these lines are in rural areas and subject to little or no federal or state safety oversight, despite sometimes running beside homes.

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