The costs of climate change are sky-rocketing – for American taxpayers. Catastrophic floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are more destructive because of climate change, and taxpayers pay the price.

Dozens of federal policies, programs, and subsidies exacerbate existing climate challenges or are ill-suited to meet them. Misguided bioenergy policies promote biofuel and biomass production that is environmentally harmful. Certain agriculture policies discourage beneficial conservation and carbon sequestration practices.

Taxpayers for Common Sense is dedicated to exposing both the direct and hidden costs that we as taxpayers are forced to pay every year for damages caused by climate change.

We will expose handouts to polluting industries that are making the problem worse. These programs and policies work at cross purposes with federal programs aimed at mitigating the costs of climate change. The current system is broken and we are paying the price.

But not all hope is lost. We will propose realistic, efficient, accountable, and equitable climate solutions that spend taxpayer dollars wisely. If enacted, these will lead to smarter investments, reduce climate risks, and increase resilience in the face of the next inevitable disaster.

It’s time for things to change.

The environmental and health damage from fossil fuels is well understood and generally accepted, but there remains a huge gap in knowledge about both the climate consequences of agriculture subsidies and the ability of the sector to either undermine or advance climate goals. Agriculture subsidies take many forms—from direct spending in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, to loan guarantees, and tax preferences. If these hidden and complicated policies are not exposed or explained, they will only expand despite their history of exacerbating rather than mitigating climate change. Farmers and ranchers, as well as taxpayers footing the bill, must reorient agriculture policy to promote economic resilience rather than increased dependence on federal subsidies.

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Taxpayers and the federal government helped launch the U.S. biofuels and biomass industries. Ethanol subsidies dating back to 1978 jumpstarted an industry that eventually made up three-fourths of all biofuels consumption mandated through the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Biodiesel and biomass subsidies, along with other biofuels infrastructure tax credits, loan guarantees, and other subsidies helped the industry overproduce and grow to a size that would not have been possible without taxpayer support. While bioenergy was intended to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and move the U.S. away from fossil fuels, in practice, federal policies and subsidies have done more harm than good. The current biofuels industry mostly produces fuels that do little to reduce GHG emissions, and in some cases, worsen climate change.

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Federal floodplain policy and management has enabled unwise development that ironically contributes to catastrophic events. For instance, the flood insurance program subsidizes construction in risk- and disaster-prone areas, making it economically “safe” to build in medium- and high-risk areas by removing the costs of such decision-making. Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal flood insurance program never borrowed more than $1.5 billion from the U.S. Treasury and loans were repaid with interest. Since the 2005 storms, the program has borrowed nearly $40 billion. From both a human and taxpayer perspective, mitigation and resilience are better ways to spend tax dollars than just responding to disasters. Federal agencies engaging in disaster response should use recovery efforts to “pre-spond” to inevitable future disasters.

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In 2018, Congress created a separate disaster fund that allows agencies to pay wildfire costs in excess of their annual suppression budget, up to $2.25 billion in FY20 and increasing to $2.95 billion by FY27. The change will help end “fire borrowing,” which has led the US Forest Service (USFS) to spend as much as half its entire annual budget on fire suppression. But simply increasing spending in response to disasters without making smarter investments in mitigation may ultimately contribute to ever-increasing wildfires and the accompanying disaster spending. Fewer constraints on wildfire spending can also create incentives for more private development along the Wilderness Urban Interface (WUI), one of the principal drivers of fire suppression costs. The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that for every dollar spent on mitigating fire in the WUI, disaster costs are reduced by three dollars. Smart, taxpayer-friendly reforms can keep more people out of harm’s way, promote smarter construction, and strengthen communities.

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For more than a century, oil and gas companies have benefited from multiple taxpayer subsidies, from special tax preferences to below-cost leasing of public lands and liability protections. As early as the 1960s, the oil industry knew catastrophic harm that would result from continued widespread reliance on fossil fuels. But for decades, they hid this knowledge from shareholders, regulators, the public, and taxpayers alike. As climate-related harms and costs increased, the industry poured their efforts into spreading misinformation about climate change and doubled-down on their image as a unique driver of economic benefits and employment. And while some major companies have expressed support for carbon tax proposals, it is conditioned on either significant regulatory relief or a statutory shield from liability, or both.

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Recent hurricanes have previewed the future damages and costs that taxpayers may face from defense installations standing in harm’s way. Hurricane Michael damaged or destroyed every building on Tyndall Air Force Base shutting down base operations for months with repairs estimated at $3 billion. Hurricane Florence heavily damaged Marine Corps facilities in North Carolina to the tune of $3.6 billion. It is not just flooding and hurricanes that affect the sprawling defense complex. High temperatures affect training in some areas and wildfire as well. Drought not only affects installations but also the neighboring communities that also rely on these resources. These are all direct and indirect taxpayer liabilities facing the defense sector from the future risks of climate change. The defense complex is so large that minor policy changes to training, construction, and operation can have far reaching effects in reducing taxpayer cost and climate impacts.

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