Extreme weather, climate change costing taxpayers billions

WASHINGTON — Climate change is costing taxpayers billions of dollars in disaster relief and the tab will only increase as extreme weather events become more common, according to a new government study.

The federal government has spent an estimated $350 billion over the past decade responding to extreme weather and fire events, which are exacerbated by climate change, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. It comes as Congress moves to approve billions of dollars in extra funding for hurricane relief.

"Climate change impacts are already costing the federal government money, and these costs will likely increase over time as the climate continues to change," the report found.

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Puerto Rico's damage from above
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Puerto Rico's damage from above
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Remains of a shed is scattered over a basketball court after Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings and trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near Orocovis, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen among blown down trees following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sand is seen along a road after being pushed there by Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen in a valley near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Plywood is used on buildings to repair damage from Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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It’s impossible to put a precise price tag on climate change, the report noted, but said research shows "the impacts and costs of extreme events — such as floods, drought and other events — will increase in significance as what are considered rare events become more common and intense because of climate change."

A bipartisan pair of senators, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., requested the report from the GAO, an arm of Congress that helps provide research and oversight of the executive branch.

This year's unusually destructive hurricane season has already been a drain on Federal Emergency Management Agency coffers, and California’s historically deadly fires are likely to cost the government even more.

The Senate on Tuesday is expected to approve an additional $36.5 billion in disaster relief, which has already passed the House. That’s on top of the $15 billion in supplemental disaster funds Congress approved last month, suggesting this year's tab will be unusually high.

In addition to the $205 billion spent directly on disaster relief over the past decade, the government has spent $90 billion for crop and flood insurance, $34 billion for wildland fire management and $28 billion for repairs to federal facilities, according to the report.

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Satellite images of California's wildfires
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Satellite images of California's wildfires

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

Photo Credit: Copyright DigitalGlobe

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The report says the government should take more preparations to deal with climate-related weather events, noting that previous GAO studies had found "the federal government had no comprehensive, strategic approach" to disaster resilience, nor did it have "strategic government-wide priorities related to climate change."

The government has taken some steps to address climate risks, the report notes, but President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March to rescind some of the planning efforts, a move that "created uncertainty about whether other planning efforts would continue or take their place."

The report acknowledges that its conclusions are imprecise and incomplete, since it requires linking complicated climate and economic models, but the GAO is known for being conservative in its estimates, especially on controversial issues.

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The most striking images of Hurricane Irma shared on the web
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The most striking images of Hurricane Irma shared on the web
A drive through the streets of Barbuda. The damage is truly horrendous https://t.co/WuBBEcQce7
Now DL302 has to climb out of SJU, and they're doing so between the outer band of #Irma and the core of the storn.… https://t.co/BCVFu9HRbV
The outer wall of eye, #hurricaneirma hitting #marcoisland (3pm, 9/10/17) #winknews #weatherchannel #swfl… https://t.co/I3OJXc5LLY
A beached manatee as Hurricane Irma sucks water out of Sarasota Bay from viewer Billie Brown. #TrackingIrma https://t.co/CJhbRdlmfE
Flooded streets and a loose sailboat! #irma #miami #hurricane #hurricaneirma
WOW! Look at these pictures of Brickell Ave. in downtown Miami. INSANE! Please be safe. #HurricaneIrma #Miami… https://t.co/AREgiApO0Z
UNREAL: Look at the pier at Fort Myers Beach right now #TrackingIrma #HurricaneIrma #SWFL Credit: Jody Drovdlic https://t.co/IekdcJmYre
WATCH: High winds and severe flooding near Waterfront Park in downtown Charleston, South Carolina (Via Patrick Spo… https://t.co/8N40ytEfw0
Cleanup has started in Miami after #hurricaneirma.
Our beach after Irma #irma #hurricane #hurricaneirma #afterirma #fisherisland #luxurylifestyle #luxuryrealestate #luxurylife #island #islandlife #islandliving #hurricane #miami #brickell #miamibeach #ураган #ураганирма #майами @socialite_magazine
Hurricane Irma Turns Caribbean Islands Brown https://t.co/CIOrCeYzfG #NASA https://t.co/tqkwXVCTrJ
Via Suomi NPP, what the power situation was like overnight in S. Flo (top) vs a Normal night (bottom) https://t.co/dW7aWOApCg
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