POLITICS
11/17/2014 06:00 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

White House Turns Climate Change Spotlight To U.S. Cities, Towns

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - After announcing a major deal with China to curb emissions and a $3 billion pledge into a fund to help poor countries fight climate change last week, the Obama administration will turn its focus to American towns and cities to help them adapt to the impacts of global warming.

On Monday, a task force of eight governors, 16 mayors and two tribal leaders will meet with Vice President Joe Biden and senior White House officials to present recommendations on how they can help local communities deal with extreme weather.

White House officials will also unveil a set of measures, including a Web-based climate resilience toolkit, to help local leaders adopt measures to prepare municipalities for rising sea levels, droughts, diseases and other climate impacts.

The recommendations come as Congress engages in sharp partisan debate over whether to approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, and as new Republican leadership eyes reining in the executive actions in President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan.

The task force, appointed last November by Obama, said recommendations focus on how Washington can modernize programs and policies to incorporate climate change, remove barriers to community resilience and provide tools to help local communities better design their own adaptation measures.

One example cited by the task force calls for climate-sensitive health-tracking tools to limit climate change-caused diseases.

Another calls on Washington to integrate climate resilience planning criteria in all federal programs, such as those that provide transportation funding, "to ensure these projects will last as long as intended."

The recommendations don't require federal funds for recommended programs, but would "reorient" existing resources.

Seeking new funding for climate programs would be problematic in Congress since the new leadership has said it would use federal purse strings to weaken the president's climate plan.

"At the local level, we just shake our heads at Washington. The Congressional dialog seems to be a fight over ideology rather than the realities on the ground which we deal with every day," said task force member Ralph Becker, mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Another task force participant, Republican Mayor Jim Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, added since local leaders interact more frequently with their communities, they are better in touch with climate change concerns than Washington lawmakers.

"Neither party should want to be the party for dirty water or dirty air," Brainard said. (Editing by Eric Walsh)

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