Expanding Environmental Justice to Achieve a Just Transition

by Alice Kaswan | September 26, 2018

Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission.

A recent study tells us that Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, may have caused as many as 4,600 deaths, far exceeding the initial official death toll of 64. In contrast, contemporaneous hurricanes in Texas and Florida appear to have caused far fewer deaths: 88 in Texas and 75 in Florida.

The differing outcomes bring home the importance of Sidney A. Shapiro and Robert R. M. Verchick’s recent article, which explores the way that underlying social vulnerability determines the impacts of major environmental transitions.

Just as a hurricane’s consequences differ dramatically depending on many socioeconomic factors—including infrastructure, access to medical care, and financial resources—the consequences of a shift to a green economy will differ based on the impacted communities’ underlying characteristics—both for ill and for good.

Reckoning with underlying vulnerabilities requires more from environmentalists and social welfare advocates. As Shapiro and Verchick observe—and as I have elsewhere discussed—the environmental justice movement’s holistic and place-based focus expands upon the traditional environmental movement’s narrower and more utilitarian scope.

While traditional environmentalism focuses on the reduction of discrete pollutants and the narrow harms they cause, a holistic approach focuses on quality of life. In addition to achieving discrete pollution reduction goals, the holistic approach considers ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Seeking Climate Justice in the Common Law

by Karen Sokol | September 26, 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. The 450 Inupiat residents of Kivalina, a small village on the frozen tundra of Alaska at the edge of the Arctic Ocean, are among the first communities in the world to lose their ability to survive because of climate change. With temperature increases that double the global average, Alaska is one of the canaries in the coal mine ...

New Report: A Fair Economy Requires Access to the Courts

by James Goodwin | September 26, 2018
The confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh offered Americans a contemporary reminder of what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind when it comes to protecting many of our fundamental rights and liberties. When it came to individual access to civil courts, a right guaranteed in the Seventh Amendment, they couldn't have been clearer. No less than James Madison put the value of that guarantee in stark terms: "Trial by jury [in civil cases]," he said, "is as essential to ...

Mesothelioma Awareness Day 2018

by Katie Tracy | September 25, 2018
September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day. The day is intended to share information about mesothelioma, an incurable cancer that forms on the linings of vital organs, typically the lungs, following asbestos exposure. While the prognosis for individuals diagnosed with the illness is grim, preventing it is very much possible.  Scientific studies of asbestos conclude there is no safe level of exposure. Accordingly, the clear solution to preventing mesothelioma is to ensure people are never exposed to asbestos in any amount. ...

The Jobs and Regulation Issue Revisited

by Daniel Farber | September 25, 2018
Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission. Despite noisy political claims to the contrary, the weight of the evidence suggests that regulation has a small impact on the total number of jobs. Still, regulation is bound to have some effect on who has jobs, what kinds of jobs they have, and where those jobs can be found. How much should we care about that? In a new ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Coastal Storms, Private Property, and the Takings Issue

by John Echeverria | September 25, 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. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the New Jersey shore, claiming dozens of lives and destroying or damaging more than 300,000 homes. Properties along the shore were especially hard hit, with many oceanfront homes lifted off their foundations and tossed inland. All told, business losses were estimated at more than $30 billion. While no single ...

Regulating the Green Economy

by Sidney Shapiro | September 24, 2018
Originally published in The Regulatory Review as part of a series on social justice and the green economy. Reprinted with permission. A green economy will generate thousands of new jobs — many more than will be lost to regulations on carbon pollution. But a green economy may also increase wealth inequality in some parts of the United States because people who lose jobs to carbon controls are not the same as those who will get them when the green economy blooms. ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Disaster in Disaster: The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act Must Be Enforced

by Rebecca Bratspies | September 24, 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. This chapter is excerpted from a law review article that is forthcoming in U. Arkansas Law Review, titled "Taking a Page from FDA’s Prescription Medicine Information Rules: Reimagining Environmental Information for Climate Change." What Happened? In August 2017, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit the southern United States in rapid succession. These massive hurricanes wrought widespread devastation — destroying ...

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 ...

Draining Washington of Science and Talent

by Laurie Ristino | September 20, 2018
Donald Trump has, in a sense, made good on his promise to "drain" Washington, D.C. – but not in the way many people probably thought he would. The exodus from our nation's capital has been made up of the scientists, diplomats, and policy experts that a democracy needs to function, not the high-powered, special interest lobbyists voters likely had in mind. Meanwhile, a raft of grifters has gleefully taken a temporary perch in the executive branch. The ensuing debacles, scandals, ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Hazardous Waste and Disaster Preparedness

by Victor Flatt | September 20, 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. What Happened According to the Houston Chronicle, there were more than 100 releases of hazardous substances into land, air, and water during and after Hurricane Harvey. At least one dozen of the Superfund sites listed in or near Houston were flooded during the storm. On September 3, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged breaches at 13 ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Emergency Waiver of Health, Safety, and Environmental Rules

by Victor Flatt | September 19, 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. On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Worker Health and Disaster

by Katie Tracy | September 18, 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. Lachlan Brain, a 22-year-old electrical lineman from Tennessee, traveled to Houston following Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief effort, working for T&D Solutions, a company that specializes in maintaining and repairing power lines and related equipment. While working inside a bucket truck on August 25, 2017, Brain leaned across an electrical line, came into contact with a ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Stormwater Infrastructure and Management: Unsafe for Human Contact

by Evan Isaacson | September 17, 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. 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 -- Energy Infrastructure: Beyond Repair

by Joseph Tomain | September 14, 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. We have seen the pictures before. A man and his dog, both wet and disheveled, gliding down the middle of a residential street in a rowboat past downed power lines. As they drift, they pass the tops of cars parked at the curb, immobile. As they drift further, they see a woman and child standing on the roof ...

From Surviving to Thriving -- Relocation and Migration

by Maxine A Burkett | September 13, 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. 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

by Alice Kaswan | September 12, 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. 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

by Christine Klein | September 11, 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 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 ...

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