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Climate Change, Hot Topic At Senate Panel Hearing On Miami Beach

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) - The coastal effects of climate change was the hot topic at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on Miami Beach.

On Tuesday, which just happened to be Earth Day, the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's subcommittee on science and space met at City Hall.

The hearing, entitled "Leading the Way: Adapting to South Florida's Changing Coastline," was held to provide lawmakers with an overview of climate science and how the analyses conducted by federal agencies and Florida universities impact state and local government adaptation plans.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said South Florida is at the forefront of the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

"Greenhouse gas emissions are causing sea-level rise, land erosion, and an increase in the number of extreme storms, which together are creating the potential for a uninhabitable landscape," said Wilson in a statement. "The longer we take to deal with it, the more costly it will be to address."

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who chaired the hearing, said the situation needs to be addressed in the coming years.

"By the end of the year, we will be the third largest state with close to 20 million people," said Nelson. "Seventy five percent of that population lives on the coast."

"In recent years, Miami Beach has observed an increased frequency of urban flooding caused by higher tides elevated ground water levels and over saturated soil," said Rep. Joe Garcia.

According to studies, sea level is on the rise in South Florida. Some project that it will rise two feet by the year 2060.

"These projections are alarming particularly for a city like Miami Beach that has an average elevation of 4.4 feet," said Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine.

If, or some say when, that happens, it will cost the state half a trillion dollars in real estate and economic damages.

Last year, Miami Beach set a record for visitors. They more than $22 billion to Miami Beach's economy. With a city underwater, those tourist dollars would dry up.

Rising sea water also compromises fresh water supplies since it contaminates wells and aquifers.

"For Palm Beach, Broward and Monroe counties at just one foot of sea level rise, up to $4-billion dollars of taxable property will be inundated with sea water," said Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs. "In Broward County alone, that salt water intrusion line continues to march ever inland. In the City of Fort Lauderdale, it's about 6 miles in. Everything else on the other side of the salt water line, all those wells have been lost."

The problems are even worse when it comes to sewage. Although no specific solutions were mentioned at the hearing, everyone agreed that something needed to be done and it was going to cost a lot of money.


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