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April 29, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez

Progress for Puerto Rico: Biden Administration Lifts Trump-Era Restrictions on Disaster Relief

In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit hard by two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria. First came Irma, a Category 5 storm that pummeled the island, leaving a trail of destruction. Less than two weeks later came Maria, another Category 5 storm that directly hit the island in what became the worst natural disaster in the U.S. territory's history. The storm moved directly across the island, knocking out electricity and inundating towns with floodwaters and mudslides.

Maria's immediate aftermath was brutal. It included cascading failures of critical infrastructure that threatened systems that people depend on to survive: energy, transportation, communications, water, and wastewater treatment. The storm caused $90 billion in damage to the island, and Puerto Ricans were forced to live without power for 328 days — the longest blackout in U.S. history. The storm also caused an estimated 3,000 deaths, according to an independent study commissioned by former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello (D).

Nearly four years later, communities are still trying to recover and rebuild the island's infrastructure.

Historically, Puerto Rico's ability to recover from tropical storms and other disasters has depended on the federal government's efforts to ensure that communities get the funds they need to …

Feb. 26, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

In the wake of the Texas blackouts, we're seeing a number of familiar moves to deflect blame by the usual suspects — politicians, regulators, and CEOs. These evasive tactics all begin with a core truth: Eliminating all risk is impossible and would be too expensive even if it weren't. But then they spin that truth in various ways. The result is to obscure responsibility for the disaster and the steps that should be taken going forward.

Here are some of the most common dodges — not counting such crass moves as blaming everything on the Green New Deal or the media.

Dodge #1: No one could have foreseen this event! This often sounds reasonable. How could anyone have foreseen that New Orleans' levees would simply collapse, or that a historic tsunami would hit the nuclear reactors at Fukushima …

Sept. 19, 2018 by Victor Flatt
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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 expected to hinder disaster recovery. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) asked Governor Abbott to suspend dozens of environmental rules on August 28, 2017, as Harvey was continuing to pummel Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast area.

The waiver request specified air quality rules related to emission “upset” events as well as monitoring and releases of unpermitted Volatile Organic Compounds. Predictably, the request indicated …

Sept. 18, 2018 by Katie Tracy
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This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report.

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 live wire, and was electrocuted. Line personnel and first responders attempted to revive him unsuccessfully, and Brain died.

According to reports, Brain had been eager to travel to Texas for the relief effort. He had become an electrical lineman just a year before, after attending training courses at the Southeast Lineman Training Center in Trenton, Georgia. He felt that working as an electrical lineman was his true calling, according to his …

Aug. 10, 2016 by Evan Isaacson
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Two people died on July 30 after a 1,000-year storm brought devastating flooding to the lovely and historic Ellicott City, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. The 6.5 inches of rain that fell over the course of a few hours damaged or destroyed more than 150 vehicles and scores of buildings, and forced the rescue of dozens of people. It also sent more than 5 million gallons of sewage per day from several different sites into the Patuxent River and out to the Chesapeake Bay.

It didn't take long for a public official to ask if this tragedy was caused by climate change. I'll leave that question alone and let the scientists who study this sort of thing determine which specific weather-related disasters are most likely to be linked to climate change. But I'll raise a different question more specifically tied to the Ellicott City flood …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
April 29, 2021

Progress for Puerto Rico: Biden Administration Lifts Trump-Era Restrictions on Disaster Relief

Feb. 26, 2021

Three Ways of Dodging Responsibility

Sept. 19, 2018

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

Sept. 18, 2018

From Surviving to Thriving: Worker Health and Disaster

Aug. 10, 2016

Climate-Related Catastrophes Require Proactive Solutions and Preparation