SUPERSTORM SANDY:

Still treading lightly, admin acknowledges 'changing climate' in emergency funding request

Underlying the Obama administration's $60.4 billion emergency funding request to Congress for Superstorm Sandy cleanup and relief efforts is an acknowledgement that climate change is real and must be addressed in a comprehensive fashion along with more immediate needs.

The supplemental funding request, which was submitted Friday night, touches every function of government and practically every government agency, highlighting the enormity of Sandy's destruction. In fact, federal officials estimate that the level of damage makes it the second or third worst storm in American history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and close to Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Significantly, the Obama administration is calling for almost $13 billion to be spent across several federal agencies for what it is blandly calling "mitigation" efforts -- to prepare for similar damaging weather events and prevent damage on such a devastating scale.

"To build a more resilient Nation prepared to face both current and future challenges, including a changing climate, Federal agencies in partnership with State, local, and tribal officials, and the science community, should inform all plans for recovery and rebuilding to address the increased risk and vulnerabilities of extreme weather, sea level rise, and coastal flooding," Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in the funding request to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "These investments in planning and rebuilding for the future will help guarantee the most effective use of public resources invested in the recovery effort and help revitalize the health, social, economic, and environmental fabric of communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy."

In his letter, Zients outlined what funding the administration believes is available to pay for disaster relief. But he did not address the issue of funding offsets -- a condition many Republicans in Congress want to place on any emergency spending related to Sandy.

"Our Nation has an obligation to assist those who suffered losses and who lack adequate resources to rebuild their lives," Zients wrote.

The Obama plan calls for the creation of a Hurricane Sandy Task Force, composed of federal, state and local officials, to oversee repair and mitigation work and oversee federal spending. It would be led by Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of the most significant spending requests cover the repair of military facilities from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, all the way to New England, and pay for job training and counseling programs for victims of Sandy who lost their jobs and homes. Homeland security programs would also see a huge influx of cash. And the Obama administration plan would make hundreds of millions of dollars available to local governments for grants to Sandy victims.

The plan also authorizes an additional $9.7 billion in borrowing authority for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its National Flood Insurance Program, which is currently capped at about $20.7 billion annually.

One of the biggest single outlays in the Obama request is $6.2 billion for repairs of transit infrastructure in the New York City area -- including money for the New York City subways, suburban New York commuter rails and the New Jersey Transit system. Another $32 million would be allocated to Amtrak, to dewater tunnels and repair and improve electrical systems and overhead wires.

Other highlights of the funding request:

  • $308 million for highway repairs in North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
  • $348 million for the repair of National Park Service facilities.
  • $78 million to repair Fish and Wildlife Service properties and projects and for repairs at national wildlife refuges from Florida to Maine.
  • $3 million to the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement for repairs to oil spill research facilities and storage space in New Jersey.
  • $899 million for the Army Corps of Engineers for repairs to civil works projects, including emergency dredging at inlets, harbors and channels. The Army Corps would also be in line for $592 million for disaster response and $9 million to complete civil works projects that had been damaged by the storm.
  • $33 million to the Department of Commerce to repair damaged National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather observation facilities in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast and for repairs at National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Weather Service and National Estuarine Research Reserve System facilities.
  • $5 million to U.S. EPA to assess and clean up petroleum releases from underground storage tanks. The agency would also be in line for $2 million to clean up Superfund sites in New Jersey and $750,000 to assess water quality in New Jersey and New York that may have been affected by raw sewage runoff.
  • $30 million to the Department of Agriculture for flood prevention, $23 million to USDA to rehabilitate damaged forestland, $15 million to the agency for assistance to farmers and ranchers, $6 million for food banks and soup kitchens, and $4.4 million to repair Forest Service properties.
  • $4 million to NASA to repair damaged and eroded sand berms at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • $2 million to the Smithsonian Institution for roof repairs at three museums and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as well as at facilities in suburban Maryland and Virginia.

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