MEMO: Murray Outlines Fiscal Impacts of Climate Change in Memo to Democratic Caucus

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) released a memo to Senate Democrats to outline the serious impacts climate change will have on the economy and the federal budget, and show that failure to confront climate change will make it harder to address our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. The memo uses illustrative examples in the areas of disaster relief, national security, transportation and water infrastructure, and agriculture to show how climate change impacts are increasingly appearing in the federal budget.

“If we do not act to address climate change and its impacts, the budgetary and economic costs will continue to grow and will worsen our long-term fiscal outlook,” Murray said in a letter to colleagues.

The memo follows a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee on The Costs of Inaction: The Economic and Budgetary Consequences of Climate Change.

See below for Chairman Murray’s letter to her colleagues and click here to read the full memo.

Murray Letter to Colleagues:

Dear Colleagues,

Climate change is real and its impacts pose serious threats to our country. We are already seeing some of the negative consequences of a warming planet, from more catastrophic hurricanes and super storms to more intense droughts and wildfires, all of which can have devastating consequences for families and communities. But this is not just an environmental issue. Climate change will also have serious ramifications for our economy and the federal budget, and failure to confront it will make it harder to meet our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges. In Congress, we have an obligation to address the budgetary costs and economic risks brought on by climate change and live up to our responsibility to leave behind both a strong and stable fiscal foundation, as well as a safe and healthy environment, for our children and grandchildren.

While skeptics may argue that preparing for climate change will be too costly, failing to combat climate change will have far greater costs for our economy and our budget. The longer we wait, the bigger these challenges will be—and the effects are becoming clearer in certain areas of the budget.

This memo will focus on four ways climate change will directly worsen the fiscal outlook:

  • Extreme weather. The federal government spent three times more on disaster relief in the past decade than it did in the previous decade. Left unabated, climate change will result in more frequent and more intense episodes of extreme weather, like the kind we saw during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. This will necessitate more federal dollars for disaster relief to help families and communities recover. 
  • Transportation and water infrastructure. The Department of Transportation today sends approximately $22 billion a year to state and local governments just to help them keep their existing transportation infrastructure in good repair. But hotter temperatures and more frequent flooding will wash out roads and will put added stress on bridge supports and public transit systems, requiring substantial additional investment. Drinking water, as well as storm and wastewater infrastructure, will also need substantially more funding for upgrades and repairs as a result of heavier rains and altered weather patterns.
  • National security. Military experts say that climate change will act as a catalyst for instability and conflict around the world, creating additional threats to our country and adding to the costs of protecting our nation’s interests. In addition, U.S. military installations all over the world, such as naval ports and military bases, will need to undertake costly adaptation measures to cope with rising sea levels and other hazards posed by a changing climate. In fact, we have already begun to see the first instances of climate-related damage to military installations, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for each new necessary repair.
  • Agriculture. The federal government operates numerous programs and services that are tied tightly to the national and international agriculture market, including crop insurance and nutrition assistance programs. An uptick in temperature and heat waves will reduce annual yields of some major crops and cause more livestock deaths, hurting farmers and agri-businesses, causing consumer food prices to rise and creating a ripple effect that will increase costs to U.S. taxpayers.

Using just these four examples together, climate change, if left unaddressed, will add tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in fiscal costs over the next decade alone, with much larger costs in later decades. It is important to note, however, that this memo focuses on just a few of the economic and budgetary costs that come with climate change, and the costs identified here are largely unaccounted for in current budget projections. If we do not act to address climate change and its impacts, the budgetary and economic costs will continue to grow and will worsen our long-term fiscal outlook. 

I hope this information is helpful to you as we work toward addressing these challenges. By taking steps to confront climate change now, we can protect our environment, improve our fiscal outlook, and live up to our responsibility to future generations.


Patty Murray

Chairman, Senate Budget Committee