In this Sept. 1, 2017 photo, homes are submerged by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey near Freeport, Tex. Credit: Charlie Riedel | AP

If you knew the federal government was spending $35 billion a year that it might not have to, you’d want officials to find ways to stop making the payments, right?

This isn’t a hypothetical question. It’s the situation with climate change. The federal government spent $350 billion because of extreme weather and fire events over the last decade, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO report was requested by Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington. The federal funds were spent on disaster response, crop and flood insurance, fire management and repair and maintenance of federal facilities and land.

That’s just the federal government’s side of the ledger. Climate change-induced weather events and the health consequences from fossil fuel pollution result in annual economic losses of $240 billion, the Universal Ecological Fund said in a recent report. Those economic losses will grow to $360 billion a year over the next decade. The costs of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the wildfires that ravaged the west this year are expected to exceed $300 billion, the report notes.

[Susan Collins: Ignoring climate change is ‘simply not a solution’]

“The federal government cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that is going to be needed if we do not take into account and start acting on the serious consequences of climate change,” Collins said on the Senate floor earlier this week. “Spending more than $300 billion each year, in response to severe weather events that are connected to warming waters and producing strong hurricanes, is simply not a solution.”

She and Cantwell have added the GAO report to the dossier of evidence they are using to persuade Senate colleagues to get on board with efforts to address climate change. The economic case in the GAO report should be especially helpful with those who have been unpersuaded by the human health and environmental cases for taking climate change, and its consequences, seriously.

The message from the GAO report is two-fold. First, the consequences of climate change — more intense storms and drought-driven fires that destroy property, crops and infrastructure — are very costly to U.S. taxpayers. Second, because of this, the U.S. government must have plans to both adapt to and to minimize the risks caused by climate change.

[Editorial: Trump actions are cause for alarm on Earth Day]

The Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, tearing up existing plans and removing references to climate change from government websites and documents. It has even refused to let government scientists speak about the topic. Much of this work is led by Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has long been a friend of the fossil fuel industry. Collins was the only Republican to oppose Pruitt’s nomination.

Pretending the earth’s climate is not changing won’t stop climate change. Only concrete action, primarily to reduce the emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which come from the burning of fossil fuels, will make a difference.

President Donald Trump pledged to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, an international agreement to reduce global emissions with each country responsible for its own targets and plans, which is hardly onerous. Collins, along with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asking him to keep the U.S. engaged in the Paris agreement.

[Trump says US will withdraw from Paris climate accord]

The Trump administration tried to rollback Obama-era rules that limit the escape and burning of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells on federal land. Collins was one of three Republican senators to vote against the rollback, which then failed.

This shows that the Trump administration’s plan to gut dozens of environmental protection and climate change measures can be slowed by lawmakers who put the wellbeing of Americans ahead of party loyalty.

The GAO report confirms this work is necessary, only if to save taxpayer money.

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