Congressman Cartwright Introduces Bill To Force Agencies To Prepare for Extreme Weather

By Joe Sylvester, The Times-Leader

Washington, DC – U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright Friday announced he has introduced a bill to force federal government agencies to better prepare for extreme weather emergencies.

In a conference call with reporters, Cartwright, D-Moosic, said he introduced the PREPARE Act after the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that federal agencies did not have a coherent strategic government-wide approach and systematic method to plan for those disasters. It was the first time in history the GAO included the need to address extreme weather when it did so in its 2013 High Risk List, which stated the issue presented a significant financial risk to the federal government.

“My zero-cost bill compels the federal government to form a comprehensive plan to prepare for the grave threat posed by extreme weather events,” Cartwright said of his PREPARE (Preparedness and Risk management for Extreme weather Patterns Assuring Resilience) Act, which he introduced with Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

It already has picked up five Republican and 10 Democratic co-sponsors..

He noted that in just the last two years, there have been 20 extreme weather events that have each inflicted at least $1 billion in damage and have taken a total of 409 lives. He noted that in his 17th Congressional District, the Susquehanna River threatens Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding neighborhoods, and though levees built after the Agnes Flood in 1972 have protected the city, nearby neighborhoods have sustained severe flooding.

“I think it’s time for our federal government to exercise leadership to prepare,” said Cartwright, who serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He said the legislation expressly forces agencies to plan ahead. It also requires the federal government to work with state and local planners for better preparedness.

The broad bill would touch every federal agency, Cartwright said. For example, it would require the Department of Energy to lay out emergency plans for electric grids and examine the threats to the national petroleum reserve and offshore oil rigs. An interagency council would be created to oversee the plan preparations.

“This is not a brand new idea to plan ahead for extreme weather,” the congressman said. “The White House has been pushing it through executive orders. My bill codifies it and allows it to be done systematically throughout.”

He said that while a lot of the agencies do plan for extreme weather, not all of them do.

“A fair amount of damage comes from misguided information from the public and private sectors,” Eli Lehrer, co-founder and president of R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research think tank, said during the phone conference. “We need to do a better job by coordinating and marshaling resources. It isn’t the fix, but I think it’s a good step toward more common sense government.”

Kate Gibbons, Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture, which advocates for strong environmental and public health policies; Jason Hartke, vice president of National Policy, U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit that works for the construction of more cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings, and Julia Shaw, Philadelphia metro outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife, also stated their support during the phone conference.