Beth Slaninka

Human activities contributed to at least some of the extreme weather we experienced last year, according to a group of scientists from around the world.

Earlier this month, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society released  a report Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective—the result of 18 international research teams evaluating the causes of 12 extreme events on five continents and the Arctic. The report found that anthropogenic climate change was a contributing factor in half of the events examined.

“This report adds to a growing ability of climate science to untangle the complexities of understanding natural and human-induced factors contributing to specific extreme weather and climate events,” Thomas R. Karl, director of National Climatic Data Center, said in the press release.

So why do I bring this up now?

Lawmakers, environmental groups, and industry associations are gearing up for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule capping greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, which is scheduled to be released tomorrow. The proposed rule is one of the key initiatives identified in the president’s Climate Action Plan.

The battle over the proposed rule started before it was even released on Wednesday at a House subcommittee hearing on the administration’s climate change policies.  Both sides of the aisle took their usual positions on climate change: Republicans argued that limiting emissions puts unnecessary burdens on specific industries, such as coal, risking jobs and global economic competitiveness; while Democrats pushed for action to address climate change given the growing amount of scientific evidence.

In a Safe Climate Caucus forum on Tuesday, Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat-California, said “We spend billions of dollars to respond to each disaster and rebuild in the aftermath. Unfortunately, many members of Congress continue to deny that climate change is happening. Even members who represent areas hard hit by extreme drought or unprecedented floods or massive wildfires often act—and vote—as if nothing unusual is happening.”

Even though the electricity sector was responsible for 33% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 with coal-fired power contributing 80% of the carbon dioxide emissions, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, is considering legislation to block EPA’s efforts to reduce emissions from future power plants.

As politicians argue the merits of regulations and policies aimed at reducing our nation’s greenhouse gases, Colorado is grappling with record-breaking rainfall and flooding. It’s the type of extreme event that scientists have said could become more common as the temperatures continue to increase.

In 2012 alone, the United States experienced $110 billion in damages from natural disasters—the second most expensive year since 1980.

As U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified Wednesday, “The evidence is overwhelming, the science is clear, and the threat from climate change is real and urgent. … The threat of a warming planet to our communities, our infrastructure and our way of life is also clear. Rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and major storms are already costing our economy billions of dollars a year and these impacts are only going to grow more severe. Common sense demands we take action.”