Editorials

A do-nothing Congress must do something to help Washington tribes survive climate change

Alarm bells have sounded, and political oddsmakers are already laying bets: If the U.S. House of Representatives moves forward with impeachment, nothing will get done in D.C. between now and Election Day 2020. Partisan gridlock will take hold like never before.

But wait a second. Do our eyes deceive us, or did the House Natural Resources Committee just approve a climate-change bill, which would help Washington state’s Native American tribes brace for glacier melt, sea-level rise and impending natural disasters?

Did it happen on Wednesday, as UkraineGate was reaching a fever pitch and both parties were retreating to their respective corners? And did the bill, sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor), really win unanimous support from the committee’s D’s and R’s?

The answer is yes on all counts, suggesting that perhaps the oddsmakers were wrong and our federal government isn’t doomed to months of inertia.

Now Congress and the Trump Administration need to show the moment of consensus wasn’t a fluke. They should quickly approve this important piece of common-sense climate legislation.

The main beneficiaries are four tribes based on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula: the Quileute, Hoh, Makah and Quinault. Already engaged in the hard work of moving to higher ground, tribal leaders need assistance making their land and people more resilient to flooding, erosion, tsunami risks and other effects of climate change.

Kilmer’s bill could help protect everything from tribal schools to fishing grounds to cultural heritage. Best of all, it doesn’t require more revenue; it simply changes the Coastal Zone Management Act so that tribal governments can lobby directly for federal grants, rather than have to go through state government.

It cuts bureaucracy, eliminates the middle man and recognizes tribal sovereignty. And Washington tribal members are feeling more emboldened than ever to invoke sovereignty to fight climate change; a group of indigenous people is camped out at the state Capitol this week, demanding to meet with the governor.

Adding to the credibility and urgency of Kilmer’s bill is a new United Nations climate report delivered this week. It warns of faster-than-anticipated impacts from global warming, including seas rising 3 feet by the end of this century under current emission levels.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, knows the intense stress of leading a community at ground zero.

“We are geographically now classified as living below sea level,” Sharp testified at a hearing in July. “I’ve had to declare four states of national emergency at the Quinault Nation. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve received a warning of a high tide and in just a moment’s notice trying to figure out how am I going to evacuate 1,000 residents.”

The Quinault and other Washington tribes need help — or more accurately, the competitive ability to help themselves.

Congress and the White House should waste no time giving it to them. It would stand both as an act of good faith and a sign that Americans need not be stuck with a do-nothing government under the shadow of impeachment.

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