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Hurricane Sandy relief bill passes Senate. Provides important aid but House R’s efforts to strip out $ for planning to rebuild survive.

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Tonight the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill from the House of Representatives H.R.152 : Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, was taken up in the Senate with limited debate – quite limited. The bill passed the Senate with 62 votes, a bipartisan rare success in DC, with nine Republicans joining 53 Democrats.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy which resulted in massive damage to coastal communities

The $50.5 billion aid package to help the region recover is now on its way to President Obama’s desk, but like much legislation that is drafted in DC, it isn’t perfect. Unlike some errors that appear in legislation which are the result of late night drafting under tight deadlines or simple inability to predict a changing set of future circumstances which result in unintended consequences, some problems with legislation are quite intentional, and the bill that passed today contains a very intentional problem.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas’s 14th district (Waco, College Park and nearby areas) has been adamant about defunding anything that comes through the House with connections to a wide-reaching set of plans to make government more efficient and improve the planning in our coastal and ocean waters. Those plans, crafted over a number of years by multiple bi-partisan commissions, were combined and announced during President Obama’s first year in office through an Executive Order which established the nation’s first National Ocean Policy.

Rep. Flores’ efforts to object to the President’s plans have thus far aimed at removing the funding for efforts to have more sensible planning occur in the U.S. coastal zone and ocean waters, and he’s been fairly successful in getting provisions added to House spending bills.  In the 112th Congress efforts to oppose the National Ocean Policy in the House were successful, but those successes met a quick end when Senate bills which lack such provisions run into the differing House language in Conference Committee. Ultimately the House language drops out…or it did in the 112th Congress.

To expedite the relief for victims of the Hurricane Sandy disaster Senate leadership fought to bring the House bill up for consideration with the minimum amendments possible. In fact only one Republican – Senator Mike Lee of Utah – had an amendment which was considered. That amendment proposed to fully offset the relief aid costs with cuts to discretionary funding, an amendment popular with Tea Party groups, but which fell well below the necessary 60 votes and failed 35-62.  That meant the Senate was voting on the House version of the bill as-is, including the provision from Rep. Flores to cut $150M in grant support for Regional Planning Bodies.

image of flooded taxis

Flooding resulted in economic losses and also damage to transportation infrastructure communities depend upon. Will we plan better for the next flooding event?

On the surface for those not immersed in governance issues for a living, the Flores amendment looks reasonable as it saves money by eliminating funds for NOAA pass-through funds which look to some to be unrelated to the disaster recovery. But to the informed the cuts which save $150M endanger the effectiveness of the $50.5B in federal dollars slated to flow to the region. The Regional Planning Bodies are structured with a membership that includes federal agencies, states and tribes, with input from a range of groups representing the private sector.  It is precisely that sort of broad membership which would be well positioned to discuss not simply how to rebuild what was lost, but how to make it better and most importantly in the context of disaster response, how to make what is rebuilt more resilient.

Whether Rep. Flores’ efforts are simply naive penny wise pound foolish, or whether they are a calculated effort to frustrate President Obama’s efforts to govern at every available turn is unclear. But what is clear is that $50.5B is a major federal investment, and we can only hope the federal agencies, states, tribes and localities can find ways not prohibited by the legislation to collaborate and rebuild in a coordinated way that is mindful of our changing climatic conditions. We need policies and practices that mitigate a changing climate with a systematic approach to adaptation, not a piecemeal approach that leaves some communities much better planned while others are left unnecessarily in harm’s way. The $150M that was cut from the $50.5B package made just such a well crafted response a bit harder.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Navy hosts a great environmental forum, and enviro NGOs tag along to absorb the current enviro policy in today’s Navy

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On Wednesday March 31st the Navy hosted an environmental forum in Alexandria, VA, bringing together Navy environment and installations leadership from the DC area and around the U.S. to share information about current Navy environmental practices and policies – and in a welcome move toward the open government and transparency goals of the Obama Administration, they invited the NGO environmental community to be a part of the meeting.

Our military continues to be ahead of much of the nation on environmental policy. They know that climate change is happening, and they are already working to simultaneously mitigate emissions, reduce energy consumption, tightly control the release of any toxic materials, and find ways to adapt to the changing planet.

One aspect of the data presented could have been better: When the topic of climate change and rising seas arose some of the invited NGOs made presentations at the meeting using the same poor map products that show sea levels rising and whole communities, even large parts of states, inundated by seawater.  As with so many presentations designed to move people to action on climate change, maps were shown indicating that in the future huge portions of Florida, and other areas, were awash with rising seas.  The problem is that these are simple tricks of mapping, where one moves the water elevation from the current waters edge to a point higher on an elevation map.   What those maps don’t show is any reasonable prediction of the future given that people aren’t going to just throw up their hands and let the water come in anywhere it can.  We don’t act that way now and there is no evidence to say that we will uniformly change our behavior in the future.

What these groups are failing  use are a series of government-funded maps developed over several years that looked at the east coast of the United States. EPA worked with states and county planners and made educated professional estimates of where will communities work to hold back the sea, where will they likely abandon coastal lands, and which lands currently look like  a toss-up.

EPA spent years and an estimated two million dollars to develop maps of the east coast of the U.S. which show exactly what military installations managers and environmentalists need to know: what will the east coast of the U.S. look like when existing policies, practices and sea level rise come together at the shoreline.

So why aren’t people aware of the EPA study and the maps that contain the likely look of the U.S. east coast shoreline after seas continue to rise?  And why aren’t there maps of the Gulf of Mexico, the California-Washington State coastline, Alaska, Hawaii or the territories showing the same information for those communities? I’ll put for the likely answer to those questions in a subsequent posting, or at least provide a few facts and let you draw your own conclusions.

For now, kudos to the Navy for a great open and informative meeting on their plans to protected the environment and adapt to the changing climate that they readily admit is already underway.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

April 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm

At today’s Senate EPW hearing on the EPA budget, Inhofe goes off of the deep end.

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I would like to say something more eloquent than this about Senator Inhofe’s opening remarks at the EPA budget hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but at this moment of shock I am only left with the following:

Is he nuts, or does he just have his head in the sand?  Denying that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real won’t stop it. Finding flaws in some of the climate change studies won’t refute the rest of the overwhelming evidence.  And this generation’s greedy use of climate emitting gases that steals the hope for a healthy planet from future generations is nothing but irresponsible.

And don’t get me started on how Senators citing snow on the ground in DC is not evidence that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real.  Are these elected officials really that simple, or more realistically are they just hoping that the public is that easily misinformed?

Written by Will Nuckols

February 23, 2010 at 9:38 am