From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Environmental Policy Act and Disasters
by Joel Mintz | September 21, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.
In August, 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought widespread devastation to the southeastern United States, destroying buildings, flooding neighborhoods, and taking lives. Harvey shattered the national rainfall record for a single storm, dropping over 50 inches of rain in a 36-hour period. The Houston area suffered massive flooding, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attempted to balance flooding behind strained older retention dams while releasing water to avoid dam breaches.
However, even before the unprecedented rainfall of Hurricane Harvey, severe problems had been noted at the dams. In 2016, the Army Corps noted that the dams needed repair and that a failure would be catastrophic. The federal government concluded that the dams were in critical condition in 2009. The Army Corps had multiple opportunities to evaluate the state of the dams decades before the problem reached crisis level.
In fact, despite raising the dams, rebuilding the gates, and creating various additional outflows, the Corps never did an environmental impact assessment, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The Corps’ last major construction on the dams in 2015 cost more than $100 million, but the project
From Surviving to Thriving -- Stormwater Infrastructure and Management: Unsafe for Human Contact
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. As millions of Americans in Houston and throughout Florida and Puerto Rico are acutely aware, the most dangerous aspect of a hurricane is the water. In Houston, the 50 inches of water that fell over the course of a few days broke records and overwhelmed the city’s flood control system. In Florida, Hurricane Irma’s storm surge ravaged coastal
From Surviving to Thriving -- Relocation and Migration
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. The 2017 hurricane season demonstrated the “second disaster” phenomenon. Climate-fueled storms are the first, named disaster. The second disaster is the tragedy that results from the lack of preparedness of decision-makers — at all levels — who have failed to plan in a manner consistent with the risks presented. Perhaps few phenomena underscore that more than the post-disaster
From Surviving to Thriving -- State and Local Planning
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Three months before Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the state relaxed what many had considered to be one of the best building codes in the country. That wasn’t an anomaly. A report by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety found that many states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts either lack building codes or have relaxed
From Surviving to Thriving -- The National Flood Insurance Program: Back to the Future
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Eileen and Jeff Swanson faced the unthinkable. They had just paid off the last of the mortgage on their $225,000 home in the Canyon Gate neighborhood of Houston, where they lived with two sons, one of whom is severely developmentally disabled. During the storm, a foot of water inundated their home, and
From Surviving to Thriving -- FEMA and Disaster Resilience
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. “No power, no water, no transport, roads were closed, many streets broken, houses destroyed and people crying.” Those were the words of Maria Meléndez, the mayor of Ponce, the largest city in southern Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. She had good reason to complain. As pointed out in the Economist, “[e]ven
From Surviving to Thriving -- Federal Resilience Standards
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to expedite federal infrastructure-related decisions by allowing only 90 days for permit decisions and cutting back on flood safety requirements. Enthusiastic Republicans hailed the step. For instance, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said he was “thrilled by Mr. Trump’s decision.” He dismissed catastrophic flooding in Louisiana the previous year
From Surviving to Thriving -- Adaptation Planning and Resilience: All Hands on Deck
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the American people were reeling from the impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The press documented the familiar cycle of compassion, frustration, and anger. As people suffered for days, weeks, and months in communities that were flooded, without power, and in need of food and other basic supplies, the
The National Environmental Policy Act Can Give Communities Impacted by Toxic Flooding a Voice
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. It is based on a forthcoming article that will be published in the Sustainable Development Law & Policy Brief. As climate change makes extreme weather events increasingly frequent, the risk of flooding on our rivers and shores increases. As I noted in a previous post in this series, this puts us at risk for toxic flooding – the combination of
A Loss for Trump -- and for Coal
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Understandably, most of the attention at the beginning of the week was devoted to the rollout of the Trump administration's token effort to regulate greenhouse gases, the ACE rule. But something else happened, too. On Tuesday, a D.C. Circuit ruling ignored objections from the Trump administration and invalidated key parts of a rule dealing with coal ash disposal. That rule had originally come from the Obama administration, and the court agreed with environmentalists that it was too weak.
CPR, Public Interest Allies Call on EPA to Abandon 'Benefits-Busting' Rule
Earlier this week, 19 Member Scholars with the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provide a detailed legal and policy critique of the agency's "benefits-busting" rulemaking. Since early July, EPA has been accepting feedback on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) that could lead to a complete overhaul of how the agency performs cost-benefit analysis on its environmental and public health rules. Consistent with other anti-safeguard moves the Trump EPA has
Trump Loses Another Big Court Case
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Last Thursday, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Scott Pruitt had no justification for allowing even the tiniest traces of a pesticide called chlorpyrifos (also called Lorsban and Dursban) on food. This is yet another judicial slap against lawlessness by the current administration. Chlorpyrifos was originally invented as a nerve gas, but it turns out that it kills insects quite satisfactorily. (I remember ads for "Big Foot Lorsban" from back when I lived in downstate Illinois, many years ago.
Making Sense of NOAA's Wildfire Announcement
by Dave Owen | August 10, 2018
Originally published on Environmental Law Prof Blog. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross just released a statement directing NOAA to "facilitate" water use to respond to California's wildfires (the statement follows several tweets in which President Trump implied that the cause of California's wildfires was the state's ill-advised decision to let some of its rivers flow downhill to the ocean). Because I've already seen a few befuddled headlines about what this all means, I thought a short post explaining a few
The Hill Op-Ed: Proposed Rollbacks in Vehicle Emission Limits Pose Serious Environmental Threat
by Joel Mintz | August 09, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in The Hill. Federal laws and regulations play a crucial role determining the quality of our air, water, and natural resources. Well-researched and scientifically supported rules can bring enormous benefits to the American people, but regulatory rollbacks for little more than deregulation's sake can cause great harm. One example of the potential damage that a poorly crafted regulation may cause is the new proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Watered Down Standards at the TRUMP CAFÉ
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. Trump is proposing to gut CO2 standards for cars, freezing 2020 CAFE fuel-efficiency standards in place for years to come. Without the freeze, the standards would automatically ramp up. He also wants to eliminate California's ability to set its own standards, which many other states have opted to adopt. Here are seven key questions about Trump's proposed rollback and some answers. Do the car companies really want this? A: Not so much. It's not that they love being
Miami Herald Op-Ed: New EPA Administrator, Same Menace to the Environment
by Joel Mintz | August 02, 2018
This op-ed originally ran in the Miami Herald. The forced resignation of Scott Pruitt as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought celebration and relief in many quarters. Pruitt was a walking scandal machine who generated an endless stream of headlines about spending abuses, cozy relationships with industry lobbyists, first-class travel at government expense, and aides asked to perform personal tasks, including buying lotions and mattresses and unsuccessfully helping his wife land a Chick-fil-A franchise. Of more lasting
A Real, Not Faux, Transparency Proposal for Regulatory Science
Originally published on The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission. In a previous essay, we critiqued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently proposed transparency rule, arguing that the proposal conflicts with best scientific practices and would further erode the EPA’s ability to do its job. According to supporters, the central goal of the proposed rule is to increase the transparency of regulatory science. Unfortunately, the proposal does not begin to deliver. No matter how many times the word “transparency” is repeated
Wheeler's Chance for a Course Correction at EPA
Andrew Wheeler will be on the hot seat today when he heads to Capitol Hill for his first appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as Acting Administrator of the EPA. Senators initially scheduled the hearing when Scott Pruitt was Administrator and his ethical problems had reached such epic proportions that his party's support was starting to erode. With Pruitt out and Wheeler in, today's hearing has the potential to be more about environmental policy than conflicts of
The planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges. Heading the list of threats is climate change, but other problems persist, including air and water pollution, toxic waste, and the protection of natural resources and wildlife. In recent years, we've been reminded that many of these problems , in their way, magnify the harm from natural disasters.
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