Climate change factors into 40% of the Commerce Department's work: Commerce Secretary Raimondo

·Assistant Editor
·4 min read

The U.S. Department of Commerce has been ramping up initiatives to advance offshore wind and clean energy as climate change and economic development become increasingly intertwined.

“I feel we have to preserve the treasure of our coastal lands and our oceans,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an interview (video above). “In any event, I think people probably don't realize how much the Department of Commerce has to do with resiliency, climate, oceans, undersea efforts.”

According to Raimondo, "40% of the Commerce Department is related to the ocean and the atmosphere."

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks about supply chain issues on November 4, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks about supply chain issues on November 4, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which provides data on the nation's climate, oceans, and coasts, found that in 2021 there were 20 weather disasters in the U.S. that incurred costs of over a billion dollars. Overall, the U.S. paid a total cost of $145 billion in weather-related damages last year, making it the third-costliest year on record.

“Some people ask whether we can afford to spend the money it is going to take to reverse the climate crisis,” Raimondo said in a September speech to the City Club of Cleveland. “We are already paying for the climate crisis. And it’s getting worse. We cannot afford to sit on our hands any longer.”

'We need redundancy' to combat climate change

On Jan. 12, the Commerce Dept. announced a memorandum calling for greater cooperation between NOAA and the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to make processes for deploying offshore wind facilities more efficient and coordinate ocean use in a way "that protects environmental quality, creates jobs, and advances environmental justice," the memo said.

Secretary Raimondo isn't a stranger to offshore wind development: As the governor of Rhode Island, she previously oversaw the installation of the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. off the coast of Block Island.

Wind turbines tower above the water off the shores of Block Island, Rhode Island. Offshore wind is a major component of President Biden's agenda to fight climate change. (DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
Wind turbines tower above the water off the shores of Block Island, Rhode Island. Offshore wind is a major component of President Biden's agenda to fight climate change. (DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

This latest interagency memo aims to promote President Biden's goal of achieving 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. While the U.S. has already begun scaling on-shore wind projects, especially in states such as Texas and Iowa, offshore wind remains largely underdeveloped.

The Biden administration recently announced the largest offshore wind lease sale by area off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The White House projected 7 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy would be generated from this sale, or enough energy to "power two million homes." The White House also announced it would build out energy transmission lines, funded by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, in order to help distribute green electricity.

The development of offshore wind is expected to accelerate the growth of the ocean economy, which contributed $397 billion to GDP in 2019, according to the NOAA and employed 2.4 million people across sectors including tourism, transportation, shipbuilding, and commercial fishing.

But for federal agencies motivated by national security and global competition as well, building resiliency in the face of climate change is of equal importance, if not greater, than decarbonization efforts. The fragility of global supply chains throughout the pandemic has emphasized that fact.

A cargo ship entering the Port of Miami. (NOAA)
A cargo ship entering the Port of Miami. (NOAA)

“We're realizing that in a world of severe climate change events where storms can take out a manufacturing facility or a pandemic or other kinds of disruptions, we need redundancy," Raimondo said. "We need resilience."

One area in focus has been semiconductor supply. While a chip shortage has arisen from a variety of factors, including coronavirus outbreaks and demand, climate effects have also added strain. Taiwan, for instance, experienced a significant drought last year, which added pressure to the region's semiconductor industry.

The CHIPS Act, which incentivizes American manufacturing of chips, has stalled, Raimondo noted, and she stressed that “we need to move it.”

While getting U.S. chip production facilities — such as the new $20 billion site Intel just announced — off the ground won't immediately end the current chip shortage, it could benefit domestic electric vehicle producers and move toward President Biden's goal of reaching 50% EV sales by 2030.

Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.

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