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Sept. 6, 2018 by Alice Kaswan

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 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, and other agencies once again emerged in the role of villain for their failure to respond with adequate speed or resources, a failure with particularly deadly consequences in decimated Puerto Rico. 

Assigning blame and holding the federal government to account for these victims’ suffering is an important step in learning from past mistakes. But alone, it is not enough. We also need to look at the institutions, laws, and policies that could better prepare our communities to withstand the inevitable storms of the future.

The toxic releases that followed Harvey, the 12 nursing home residents who died from stifling heat in Florida after Irma, and the thousands of deaths and …

Aug. 29, 2018 by Alice Kaswan
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For disadvantaged communities, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) falls far short of the protections and opportunities included in the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration rule that the Trump EPA is now attempting to repeal and replace.

One of the Clean Power Plan's (CPP) essential features was its recognition that the electricity sector operates as an interconnected system. Because of its system-wide approach, the CPP could achieve significant reductions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by encouraging utilities to shift from pollution-intensive coal to less-polluting alternatives, including natural gas and renewables. In contrast, the ACE rule focuses narrowly on coal-fired power plants, considering only facility-specific "heat-rate improvements," thus sacrificing a host of other ways to both conserve energy and prevent pollution. The proposed rule also fails to prompt states to engage in the more comprehensive and longer-term planning that is necessary to achieve significant …

Aug. 28, 2017 by Alice Kaswan
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With a sense of horror, the nation is watching waters rise in southeastern Texas as now-Tropical Storm Harvey spins across the Gulf Coast. While no individual storm can be attributed to climate change, scientists predict more intense storms, and the wisdom of preparing for future floods has never been clearer. And yet, less than two weeks ago, President Trump issued an executive order that rolled back a federal flood standard designed to anticipate intense flooding. Instead of investing in infrastructure to prepare for flood risks, the executive order jeopardizes future infrastructure.

One prong of President Trump's executive order "streamlining" federally-funded infrastructure reverses an Obama-era order that had wisely required federal agencies to take potential flooding into account when funding projects. Under Obama's Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, jointly developed by many federal agencies with input from a wide range of state and other stakeholders, federal …

Dec. 5, 2016 by Alice Kaswan
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Environmentalists are understandably wringing their hands over the likely post-election demise of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which are the nation's single biggest source of carbon emissions. But, with or without the Clean Power Plan (the Plan), the states hold the cards to a clean energy transition. 

Even if the fossil fuel interests intent upon perpetuating a profitable status quo end up dominating Congress and federal energy and environmental agencies, states will still have the power to steer the energy sector away from fossil fuels. By promoting renewable energy, like solar and wind power, and by promoting energy efficiency, states can and should lead the way. In so doing, they can transform the energy sector from a system that benefits vested fossil fuel interests and toward a sustainable infrastructure that benefits everyone through new …

Oct. 27, 2016 by Alice Kaswan
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It's been a month since the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan, and the nation is in wait-and-see mode. But our report, Untapped Potential: The Carbon Reductions Left Out of EPA's Clean Power Plan, released today by the Center for Progressive Reform, shows that, even if the Plan is upheld, continued climate initiatives to control existing power plant emissions are warranted and workable.

Our analysis demonstrates that EPA identified numerous available reduction opportunities that were not incorporated into the Clean Power Plan's requirements. By 2030, these opportunities could have reduced emissions from existing sources by almost 400 million tons of carbon per year in comparison with the Clean Power Plan's requirements.

Whether EPA should or shouldn't have incorporated them into the Clean Power Plan is not the point. What is the point: given the pressing risks of …

Sept. 19, 2016 by Alice Kaswan
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California's recent climate legislation is noteworthy not only for its toughest-in-the-nation carbon reduction goals – 40 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030 – but also for continuing the state's tradition of linking climate and environmental justice goals. AB 197, which accompanied a carbon reduction bill known as SB 32, prioritizes direct emission reductions likely to improve air quality; increases public access to information about carbon, conventional, and toxic emissions; and establishes a new cross-cutting legislative oversight committee to systematically monitor California's multi-faceted climate programs.

The environmental justice movement has long recognized the connection between climate policies and environmental justice. Advocates have supported stringent carbon reduction targets because poor and marginalized communities are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts like heat waves, drought, and economic disruptions to agriculture and tourism.

Climate policies also have important implications for the traditional pollutants that pose the most immediate threats …

Feb. 10, 2016 by Alice Kaswan
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The Supreme Court’s February 9 stay of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan may have removed the states’ immediate compliance obligations, and it will undoubtedly remove some pressure for action in states resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the extensive data and fundamental state and regional planning processes generated by the Clean Power Plan (the Plan) may continue to bear fruit even as the Plan remains in legal limbo.

The Clean Power Plan has already triggered progress.  To determine feasible reductions on existing power plants, EPA spearheaded extensive analyses of regional capacities to shift to less-polluting natural gas and to develop renewables.  In addition, EPA gathered detailed information on the demographics around existing power plants to help states assess the environmental justice implications of their energy choices.  EPA’s research and the resulting data can provide essential information for state and federal policies regardless of the Plan …

Dec. 21, 2015 by Alice Kaswan
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As we seek to understand and assess the Paris Agreement over the coming months and years, we will continue to contemplate the critical underlying political and ethical question: who should be responsible?  And to what degree should that responsibility take the form of direct action versus providing support in the form of financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building?  As my Center for Progressive Reform colleague Noah Sachs has observed, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) has been a consistent theme in all of the climate negotiations. But, what CBDR means – why and when responsibilities should be common, and why and when they should be differentiated -- is continually contested and continually shifting.  I briefly highlight the allocation of responsibility in the Paris Agreement.  Drawing upon two recent articles on adaptation justice, I then provide a short roadmap to the theories of justice at play in the international …

Aug. 17, 2015 by Alice Kaswan
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On Thursday and Friday of last week, I blogged about environmental justice and the Clean Power Plan. My first post considered how stringent targets and the right incentives could lead to significant aggregate reductions that will indirectly lead to reductions in co-pollutants that have a disproportionate impact on of-color and low-income communities. Friday, I examined the plan’s distributional effects and its provisions requiring community engagement. Today, I’ll examine provisions intended to help overburdened communities benefit from a transition to genuinely clean energy, and then I’ll draw some conclusions based on the issues discussed in all three blog posts.

Co-pollutant impacts are not the only environmental justice issue. Rising energy costs are a serious concern for poor families who spend a disproportionate share of their income on energy necessary to stay warm in winter and, increasingly, to stay cool in summer. In addition, justice questions …

Aug. 14, 2015 by Alice Kaswan
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Yesterday in this space, I discussed how stringent Clean Power Plan targets are critical to achieving significant aggregate co-pollutant reductions that will indirectly benefit many overburdened communities. Today, I turn to classic environmental justice issues: the distributional effects of the plan and its community engagement provisions.

As I explained in my short essay in CPR’s policy paper, The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch, it is difficult for EPA to directly control the plan’s distributional effects given the realities of an interconnected grid and the states’ important implementation role. Environmental justice groups had suggested that EPA require states to do an environmental justice assessment of their state implementation plans. The Plan acknowledges the importance of localized co-pollutant impacts on communities of color and low-income communities and “encourages” states to evaluate the impact of their plans of vulnerable communities and ensure that they benefit from the …

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