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President Barack Obama looks out of a helicopter over the central valley of California with Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) and California senators Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) on 14 February.

Dry run. President Barack Obama looks out of a helicopter over the central valley of California with Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) and California senators Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) on 14 February.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Obama to Propose $1 Billion Climate Resilience Fund

President Barack Obama yesterday used a visit to drought-parched California to announce that his 2015 budget request to Congress, to be released in early March, will include a proposal to create a $1 billion “Climate Resilience Fund.” But details on how the money would be spent are scarce so farand the plan is likely to face tough questions in Congress, which would have to approve the spending.

“We have to be clear: A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher,” Obama said on 14 February during a visit to a farm operated by Joe and Maria Del Bosque in Los Banos.

To help farmers and U.S. communities prepare, Obama said he will request “new funding for new technologies to help communities prepare for a changing climate, set up incentives to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure.  And finally, my administration will work with tech innovators and launch new challenges under our Climate Data Initiative, focused initially on rising sea levels and their impact on the coasts, but ultimately focused on how all these changes in weather patterns are going to have an impact up and down the United Statesnot just on the coast but inland as welland how do we start preparing for that.”

The fund is intended to be “part of a broader approach to dealing with the challenge represented by climate change that the President put forward in his Climate Action Plan” last year, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

It is not yet clear exactly how much of the proposed funding would be entirely new money, how much would be shifted from canceled programs, and how much is already earmarked for programs that would be folded into the new fund. White House officials have also been vague about which agencies, programs, and activities would be included in the fund.

Some hints, however, can be gleaned from a report released last March by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In a letter to Obama, PCAST suggested that the Department of Homeland Security might be put in charge of developing domestic “climate preparedness plans,” while the Department of Defense could play “the lead role for … involving events overseas that affect our national security.”

It also called for the creation of a National Commission on Climate Preparednesswhich Obama created this past Novemberto produce “an overall framework and blueprint for ongoing data collection, planning, and action,” including a survey of infrastructure, from highways and seawalls to water and power plants, that might need investment to cope with climate shifts.

On the research front, PCAST suggested that the White House science adviser, now John Holdren, work with agencies to “coordinate and prioritize Federal funding for research on climate change adaptation.”

The White House’s climate fund proposal appears to be an effort to follow through on those ideas—and package them in a way that might build public and Congressional support. “[T]he consequences from severe weather events is I think evident to everyone across the countryred states, blue states, purple states, big communities, small communities, big businesses, small businesses, agriculture and the like.” Carney told reporters yesterday.  “[T]he idea of a Climate Resilience Fund is something that should be, and we expect will be supported broadly across the country.”

The Republican chair of the House of Representatives science committee, however, was not impressed. “In order to push his costly climate change agenda, the President is once again linking extreme weather to climate changewith no scientific support,” said Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) in a statement. “Drought is a serious problem that should not be used to justify a partisan agenda or a new billion dollar climate change fund.” The United States has already spent tens of billions of climate change issues over the past 5 years, Smith noted. “And what do we have to show for that money?”

Partisan politics aside, the proposed fund is likely to face scrutiny in Congress, which will be facing constrained spending limits in the 2015 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October. Although some portions of the plansuch as funding for infrastructure improvements that could create jobsare likely to be popular with many lawmakers, they will still have to come up with money to fund them. Another potential obstacle is that any White House proposal to consolidate or eliminate existing programs traditionally spurs extensive pushback from affected constituencies. That suggests the climate resilience fund will, itself, have to show some resilience to become political reality.