By Chris Patrick, staff writer
“This country is built on not a balance between the environment and the economy, but a recognition of how they go hand and hand to give us the lifestyle and freedoms that we have become accustomed to,” said United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.
McCarthy gave a keynote speech at the third annual climate change conference hosted by the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) on November 13, 2015. The conference, “Show Me the Money: The Economic Realities of Responding to Coastal Change and Adaptation in Virginia,” brought together more than 230 policymakers, scientists, business owners, members of nonprofits, and students. Panel discussions and speeches filled the day.
“We had a great lineup of knowledgeable political leaders as speakers, which made the program very worthwhile,” said Roy Hoagland, VCPC director.
At the past two conferences, attendees considered the scope of adapting to coastal change in Virginia. This year, the emphasis was on the fiscal challenges of coastal change adaptation—namely, what the cost of adaptation may be and where the funding for it may come from.
Coastal change in Virginia is causing problems, such as recurrent flooding. Adaptations that address these problems—raising existing homes, figuring out evacuation routes—have both direct and indirect costs. And they aren’t cheap.
The answers to questions of funding are still being generated, but the conference began a dialogue about innovative financing options. Panel discussion participants proposed novel funding ideas for homeowners and local governments, including a statewide trust fund and low-interest bank loans to be used specifically for adaptation costs.
During her speech, McCarthy emphasized that decision makers must widen their focus to see the benefits of environmental solutions, not just the costs. She explained that adaptations to coastal change eventually generate revenue and employment opportunities, in addition to improving the lives of community members. In this way, costly adaptations can actually boost the economy.
“It’s a synergy,” McCarthy said of this relationship. “When you move forward with one, you will move forward with another—as long as we remember the people we serve.”
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and US Congressman Rob Wittman also gave keynote speeches. Wittman emphasized the importance of using resources correctly at every level of government. In a “resource-challenged” world, he said, responsible use is essential to “build the public trust in the things that we do.” His sentiment tied into another takeaway from the day: Recognition that political leadership is key to handling these issues.
On one panel, representatives from three local governments in Virginia described how their communities are coping with the economic challenge of climate change. Another panel explored how environmental justice could be integrated into the economics of resiliency decisions.
An extension partner of Virginia Sea Grant, VCPC at William & Mary Law School provides policy and legal analysis to its partners on coastal resource and community issues in its mission to educate and train the future lawyers and leaders of tomorrow.