The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report yesterday showing that the entire continental U.S. experienced its warmest May ever on record. The report comes on the heels of a 2017 NOAA report that found the average high tide flooding in the U.S. last year was also the highest ever recorded.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said today he wasn’t surprised, and once again called on Congress act to combat the effects of climate change and sea-level rise.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that climate change and sea level rise are putting people’s lives and their property at risk,” Nelson said today on the Senate floor. “It’s reality.”
Nelson told his Senate colleagues of the real threat that Florida faces from rising seas, and invited all of them to come with him to Florida so he can show them firsthand the impacts that sea-level rise is having on the state.
“This is a sunny day in Miami Beach,” Nelson said, showing a picture of a flooded street in Miami Beach during king tide.
“What’s happened in Miami Beach is happening in the Los Olos area of Ft. Lauderdale,” Nelson continued. “St. Petersburg – which is on the opposite coast, the Gulf coast, where the city has designed its new pier out of floating docks to accommodate the rising seas as they rise up and down in Tampa Bay. Or how about St. Augustine, where the public works department is seeing nuisance flooding from high tides that overwhelms their storm water system.”
Nelson said the solution is twofold: the U.S. needs to increase its investment in new technologies such as “wind, solar, electric vehicles and more efficient buildings” and local governments need to “make our communities more resilient.”
Nelson filed legislation earlier this year to make federal financing available to communities who need to upgrade their infrastructure to address climate change-related events, such as tidal flooding, beach erosion or saltwater intrusion caused by sea level rise.
“We’ve heard countless stories from local government officials that if they could have invested before the natural catastrophe that hit them, if they could have invested before, they would have saved the federal government a lot of money by avoiding the enormous cost of the disaster response and relief itself, not to mention reducing the risk of human life,” Nelson said.
Following is a transcript of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor.
U.S. Sen Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
June 7, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to talk today about what’s happening to the coastal communities in Florida.
Now, the presiding officer represents the state that has the most coastline, Alaska, but next to Alaska, my state of Florida has more coastline than any other state, and I would venture to say that since Alaska has very few beaches, it ought to be very clear that the state of Florida has more beaches than any other state.
And that of course is an attraction that becomes an economic engine because people from all over the world want to come to enjoy the sands of Florida’s beaches and enjoy the bounty of nature that the Lord has provided but we better watch out because we’re starting to mess it up.
Yesterday, NOAA, that’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, released data that the contiguous united States had the warmest May on record. The entire continental U.S., warmest May on record. The heat is having real world impacts.
Also, NOAA released its 2017 State of High Tide Flooding and 2018 Outlook. During 2017, the average high tide flooding in the U.S. was the highest ever recorded. And in 2018, NOAA predicts that high tide flooding will be 60% more frequent across U.S. coastlines than it was 18 years ago in 2000.
Primarily because of the local sea level rise. Now, doesn’t this suggest something? In the lower latitudes, our seas are rising. It should not surprise us.
It doesn’t surprise this senator. And we got a glimpse of this when four years ago, I took our Commerce Committee to Miami Beach and in fact had a hearing. One of the witnesses was a NASA scientist, Dr. Pierce Sellers, a very prestigious scientist and former astronaut who, unfortunately, we lost to cancer just recently. And this is what he said at the hearing. He said by the end of the century, the intensity of hurricanes will increase, but even if hurricane frequency and intensity were not to change, rising sea levels and coastal development will likely increase the impact of hurricanes and other coastal storms on the coastal communities. And the resulting effects on their infrastructure.
Well, Mr. President, I’d like you to take a peek at a picture. You know, a picture tells the real story. This is a sunny day in Miami Beach, a sunny day that the king tide is flooding Miami Beach.
Okay, that’s obvious. Look it here. But this happens frequently at high tide. So what has the city of Miami Beach had to do? Spend tens of millions of dollars on big, big pumps, raise the level of the road to try to alleviate this problem.
This is happening with some frequency in south Florida where Dr. Sellers had testified back in 2014 that projections, no, forecasts, no, measurements actually showed that the sea had risen over the last four decades 5 to 8 inches. All right.
Let’s take another look at another flooding. Now, this is Miami Beach. That’s down at the southeast part of the peninsula of Florida. But this is downtown Sarasota. Sarasota is on the gulf coast, and it’s up closer to the middle of the peninsula. In other words, about 150 miles north of the latitude that Miami Beach would be. This, the Vice Mayor brought me these pictures of Sarasota. Look at this car on the street. Pictures don’t seem to tell a false story. And then we held another field hearing in West Palm Beach a year ago, and the Broward County Resilience Officer came to Palm Beach County for that hearing and showed a video of a man biking along the city of Ft. Lauderdale sidewalk submerged in water.
In other words, what’s happened in Miami Beach is happening in the Los Olos area of Ft. Lauderdale. Then we took the committee to St. Petersburg which is on the opposite coast, the gulf coast, where the city has designed its new pier out of floating docks to accommodate the rising seas as they rise up and down in Tampa Bay.
Or how about St. Augustine, where the public works department is seeing nuisance flooding from high tides that overwhelms their storm water system. But all of these examples of how sea level rise affects coastal Florida on sunny days, not rainstorm days, and the NASA scientists at our hearing were talking about how climate could exacerbate damage from hurricanes.
Why? Because if the water is warmer, that’s the fuel for a hurricane. That’s what is sucked up into that vortex as the hurricane feeds itself. The hotter the water gets over, the more ferocious and likely frequency of those storms. Warmer ocean water fuels hurricanes, making them more intense. And the sea level rise compounds the storm surge and the rain-induced flooding.
So let me show you another image. Here’s an image that shows what Florida’s coastal communities face when the sun is not this is during a rainstorm. Here’s flooding in Jacksonville.
Where is Jacksonville? It’s at the north end of the peninsula. It’s right next almost to the Georgia line. And you can see obviously a sign that says “No skateboarding” is almost completely engulfed by the rising water.
And then you think about what about a place further south on the latitudes, Puerto Rico? Hurricane Maria absolutely ravaged that island, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that climate change and sea level rise are putting people’s lives and their property at risk. It’s reality.
I am going to continue to extend an invitation to our colleagues — I want you to come with me to Florida and I want to show you these impacts. I’ve had the privilege of taking several of our colleagues to the Florida everglades to see this unusual ecosystem that we travel about in an airboat where alligators are plentiful. I want you to come and see what’s happening as a result of the rising water.
And the real question is, what are we going to do about it? There are two pieces to the solution. One is we’re going to have to stop putting so many gases into the air called greenhouse gases. CO2 carbon dioxide and methane are the two big culprits. And part of the solution is climate mitigation. It means we must invest in new technology in the economy of the future, things like wind, solar, electric vehicles, and more efficient buildings.
And we’re going to have to make our communities more resilient to the greenhouse gases and the warming that they already have done in the system. And this is called climate change adaptation. You don’t have to agree with climate science to know that it makes sense. It makes dollars and cents to do this. We’re talking about strengthening our building codes to withstand wind events. We’re talking about restoring the function of the floodplains so that when two to three feet of rainwater suddenly gets dumped in one place, it can absorb and gradually recede.
We’re talking about rebuilding natural flood protection, like sand dunes and beaches. And in the Commerce committee, we’ve heard countless stories from local government officials that if they could have invested before the natural catastrophe that hit them, if they could have invested before, they would have saved the federal government a lot of money by avoiding the enormous cost of the disaster response and relief itself, not to mention reducing the risk of human life.
Now, the proof is in front of our very eyes. The photos that we’ve shown — let’s show the rest of them here. The photos that we have shown, they don’t lie. And yet here we are upon another hurricane season. Of course, we hope the big storms don’t come, but the likelihood is that they are. And, remember, they don’t necessarily go just to Florida.
Remember Hurricane Sandy? Look what it did to the northeast. We hope we don’t see any more of these harrowing images, but as we hope, we’re going to have to act because what we’ve shown here in these photos today is not about projections. It’s about real-time observation. Let’s quit ignoring the obvious. Mr. President, I yield the floor.