economic growth and the environment


Susan Askew
Susan Askew

economic growth and the environment:

republican congressmen tie the two together to find solutions

(L to R: Congressman Ryan Costello (R-PA), Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Chairman Wayne Pathman, Miami Beach Chief Resiliency Officer Susanne Torriente)

“Environmental policy goes hand in hand with economic growth.” That message was delivered by Pennsylvania Congressman Ryan Costello at the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Spring breakfast. Costello joined his Republican colleague, Carlos Curbelo, who represents Florida’s 26th Congressional District.
Both congressmen have become leading voices in the climate solutions dialogue. Curbelo co-founded the bi-partisan Climate Solutions Caucus in February 2016 along with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). The mission of the Caucus is “to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.” The Caucus now counts 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats as members.
Curbelo explained the premise of the group, “We’re trying to depoliticize climate change.” To keep the Caucus balanced, he said, “You can only join if you have a counterpart ... we’re figuring out what we can agree on, not what divides us.” With regard to sea level rise, Curbelo, who represents the Keys, said, “We know this is real.”
Costello, an early member of the Caucus said its membership rule is important. “It’s one and one so we’re taking steps together. It’s a way to get people to the table.” He said Republicans may be reluctant to get onboard but he urged the audience – mostly members of the business community – to contribute to the dialogue. “As you reach out to Republicans and we hope you will,” he said, “make sure you explain this is an economic issue fundamentally. The more our Republican colleagues realize that, the faster they’re going to get on this train.”
Miami Beach Assistant City Manager and Chief Resiliency Officer Susanne Torriente moderated the conversation and asked about the potential for federal money for resilient infrastructure. “We are funding locally, replacing pipes but in a way that is forward thinking,” she said.
Curbelo complimented the City on its “self-help approach” and called its efforts “truly admirable.” Federal funding takes a long time, he said, and “You can’t wait around. Your people need solutions today.” He also cautioned against counting on federal funds for some projects. “The federal government has a role in building roads, bridges, and transit but environmental infrastructure, elevating roads, seawalls, pump systems… the federal government can’t come in and bail everyone out.”
Torriente pressed a little further, “We as a community have shown we can do it. We need resources. We know how to do it. We’ve taken our own dollars to get started.” To get federal funding, Curbelo said the scope of what the highway bill can fund would have to be expanded which he said was one of his focuses.
Costello returned to economic arguments for making things happen with regard to climate solutions. “You have to trust your engineers. Leave aside ideology, they’re saying it needs to be built this way to be cost effective.”
Miami Lakes Mayor Oliver Gilbert agreed that addressing sea level rise is a fundamental economic issue for South Florida. He told the audience that many of his constituents work in the tourism industry on the Beach. “We have to find someplace else to live or find a way to save what we have,” he said. “So much of our economy is tied to people who want to come here.”
A couple of innovative ideas were floated which Curbelo said he was willing to take forward. When Torriente inquired about the potential to “flip the FEMA model” to provide funding for preventive measures versus after a disaster occurs, Curbelo said, “Help us think outside the box with regard to the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program]” and he invited the City to have a dialogue to explore the suggestion further.
Commissioner John Alemán asked if there was a potential for federal, low interest financing that private property owners could use to elevate homes or raise seawalls. “We’re working hard to incentivize homeowners to do what they need to do to protect their properties,” she said, “but they’re going to need help to do that.” Curbelo was intrigued. “That’s an interesting idea… it could have a positive ripple effect with less stress on the NFIP program and maybe encourage private insurers to come into the market. I’ll take that forward.”
The breakfast was presented by the Chamber’s Millennial Action Council, which has identified sea level rise as one of it issues of concern.

Photo: Diego Palomo

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Susan Askew
Susan Askew
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