The First American Climate Refugees and the Need for Proactive Relocation


Journal Article


Pettus, K.


The First American Climate Refugees and the Need for Proactive Relocation




Geo. Wash. L. Rev.

Vol (No), pp

87, 172


American disaster response under the Stafford Act currently provides only reactive responses to natural and man-made disasters, offering assistance to states under major disaster or emergency declarations once harm has occurred. In the age of climate change, where future disasters are accurately predictable and resulting harm is preventable, the United States should adopt a proactive response to disasters caused by climate change. The United States should create a framework to relocate its most vulnerable communities before recurring or future harm occurs. This Note proposes that a third category of disaster response be added to the Stafford Act for impending climate change disasters, which would trigger certain types of federal grants to assist with relocation of vulnerable communities facing the most critical effects of climate change. The addition of this new category of disaster comports with federalism requirements, preserving states’ police power while capitalizing on the informational and financial benefits of a federal role in proactive adaptation to climate change. The grant of a federal impending climate change disaster declaration should be conditioned upon a cost share between states and the federal government and state adoption of climate change adaptation plans. These conditions are constitutional pursuant to the Spending Clause requirements of South Dakota v. Dole, and amending the Stafford Act to include impending climate change disasters does not fundamentally alter an existing conditioned receipt of federal funds such that it is a new program pursuant to National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.