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When Climate Change Hits Home – A Partnership for the Future

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat discuss their experiences as members of the President's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

Last week, we had the privilege of meeting with President Obama, members of his Cabinet, and 24 other state, local, and tribal leaders for the fourth and final meeting of the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. It was an important milestone in a productive and collaborative process.

We discussed the Task Force’s draft recommendations, including many steps that we hope federal agencies will take to help states and communities like ours get ready for climate change, and the Administration announced bold new actions it is taking to support climate preparedness.

Sitting there together, we recalled how the partnership between Vermont and Fort Collins, Colorado, began in far less auspicious circumstances. In September 2013, floods devastated many Colorado communities along the front range. Vermont, having recently rebuilt hundreds of bridges, roads, and homes after the record-setting Tropical Storm Irene, sent a team led by Vermont’s former recovery officer and current transportation Deputy Sue Minter, to provide advice and support to Colorado leaders as they faced the epic challenge of organizing a swift recovery. 

The experience of a severe disaster in both our jurisdictions, and our deep concern that the risk of such events is worsening with climate change, has galvanized our determination to strengthen the resilience of our state and city, and to work together with leaders across the country as we “bounce forward," and make our communities safe and prosperous during a time of increased climate-related risks.

Sitting on this Task Force, it has been sobering to hear how climate change is affecting communities and tribal areas everywhere with sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and drought. In more than equal measure, it has been inspiring to see the determination of our President and his Cabinet to address the challenge. The new actions announced by the Administration were clear evidence of that determination and commitment.  

One of the actions we discussed is the launch of a new National Disaster Resilience Competition, which will provide nearly $1 billion to states and communities affected by recent disasters to plan and make new investments in resilient infrastructure. This funding will provide real resources and assistance.

In Vermont and Colorado, our own experience taught us that the more we plan and design our communities with a changing climate in mind, the more we will reduce the millions we spend on disaster recovery, and lay the foundation for a safe and prosperous future.