White House offers climate change help to U.S. cities

A woman shovels snow in Minneapolis, November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Miller (Reuters)

By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After announcing two major global initiatives on climate change last week, the Obama administration pivoted on Monday to American towns and cities to help them adapt to the impacts of global warming. The move came after a task force of U.S. governors, mayors and tribal leaders sent Vice President Joe Biden and senior White House officials recommendations on how they can help local communities deal with extreme weather. White House officials also unveiled 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 the new Republican leadership eyes reining in executive actions in the administration's Climate Action Plan, which includes the efforts to support cities and towns. The task force, appointed last November by Obama, said recommendations focus on how Washington can modernize programs and policies to incorporate climate change and provide tools to help local communities better design their own adaptation measures. One measure calls for tools to track health problems linked to climate change, such as asthma. Another asks 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 would "reorient" existing funds at a time when seeking new funding in Congress would be problematic since the new Republican leadership has said it will use federal budgets to weaken the president's climate plan. "At the local level, we just shake our heads at Washington. The congressional dialogue 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, Democratic 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 more 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. John Podesta, an advisor to Obama who participated in Monday's meeting with local officials, Biden and others, said the adaptation measures were "the latest in a series of steps" the administration has taken to address climate change using its executive authority. (Editing by Ros Krasny, Eric Walsh and Andrew Hay)