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Hirono: “Climate change is the great challenge of our time”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono warned that climate change is already having a significant impact on Hawaii and without coordinated government action will greatly harm the state’s well-being in the future during a hearing held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. At the hearing, titled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now,” climate scientists and other experts testified on how climate change is already having an effect on U.S. weather patterns which in turn is leading to more frequent extreme weather and is negatively impacting communities and industries. This was Hirono’s first hearing as a member of the committee since being tapped temporarily to fill the vacancy left after New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg’s death.

You can watch Hirono’s opening remarks here:

“Climate change is the great challenge of our time. In Hawaii, we are already seeing the impact of climate change—both on land and in the ocean that surrounds us,” Hirono testified. “Rising ocean temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification pose serious risks to our economy and communities. For example, the sea level has risen in Hawaii at rate of 0.6 inches per decade over the past century. Research indicates that sea level may increase by 3 feet by the end of the century. This means that areas like Waikiki—a critical driver of Hawaii’s tourism economy—are likely to face serious flooding if sea level rise intensifies.”

Hirono noted that while Hawaii has seen a decrease in overall rainfall that it depends on for fresh water over the past twenty years, the state has seen a large increase in very heavy downpours that have caused major flooding. She detailed how the State of Hawaii is already taking action to respond to climate change but that national and global efforts are needed to truly address the problem.

“Hawaii has taken an aggressive approach toward addressing climate change. We have passed state laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions, promoting clean energy and energy efficiency, and a law to address climate change adaptation. These efforts are forward-looking, but support on the federal level is needed,” Hirono said.

During the hearing, Hirono also questioned Reinsurance Association of America President Frank Nutter about how insurance companies are dealing with the increased threat of major weather events that climate change is causing. Nutter testified that the increasing severity of storms is causing rates to go up, especially in communities prone to flooding. Hirono cited the cautionary example of Hurricane Iniki, which caused such severe damage that the Hawaii government was forced to create the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund when insurance companies stopped writing and renewing hurricane insurance policies in Hawaii.

Hirono also voted today to confirm Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I am glad that my colleagues finally voted to confirm Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator. McCarthy has a long record of fighting for cleaner air and energy efficiency, and she will serve as an important leader in our nation’s fight against climate change,” Hirono said after the vote.