The New York Times reported today that Governor Andrew Cuomo is pursuing a policy that would allow fracking in a few of the most impoverished New York counties in the southwestern part of the state. Fracking would be allowed in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties, but only in individual towns that agree to it. It also would only take effect if state regulators at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officially approve the fracking process in New York state.
New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of diverse organizations that oppose fracking, issued the following statement in response to the New York Times report:
"Sending a polluting industry into our most economically impoverished communities is a violation of environmental justice," said New Yorkers Against Fracking founder Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., a biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College. Steingraber notes that at least one Southern Tier community is already struggling with excess cancer rates and birth defects as a result of past boom-and-bust industrial practices that have left plumes of contaminated groundwater in their wake.
"The pregnant mother who drinks unfiltered water from a rural well in the Susquehanna River valley has the same right to environmental protection as the mother in Manhattan who drinks unfiltered water brought to her from the off-limits New York City watershed, " said Steingraber.
"Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea, and we will actively oppose its implementation. Demonstration projects are another name for sacrifice zones. And there are no children and counties in our beloved state that we are willing to sacrifice."
CALL TO ACTION
Call Gov. Cuomo at 866-584-6799 and tell him, "It is not ok to sacrifice any part of New York, fracking would create the greatest health and environmental disaster in New York's history, if you break it you own it."
JOIN THE FACEBOOK & TWITTER ACTIONS
"Like" Governor Cuomo's Facebook page and post:
"It is not ok to sacrifice any part of New York, fracking would create the greatest health and environmental disaster in New York's history, if you break it you own it."
Tweet this: #Fracking would create the greatest health and environmental disaster in NY's history, and @NYGovCuomo if you break it, you own it.
What: Demonstration outside DEC Region 7 Headquarters
When: Thursday, June 14 3:30 - 5 p.m.
Where: 615 Erie Boulevard West, Syracuse, NY
Join us in rallying for a statewide ban on fracking outside of the DEC regional headquarters in Syracuse, NY. It is not okay to turn any part of New York or any New Yorkers into sacrificial fracking guinea pigs. The science is clear that nothing short of a statewide ban on fracking will protect New Yorkers. Governor Cuomo and the DEC need do their job and protect every New Yorker.
Bring your signs and bring your voice. Sign suggestions: No Sacrifice Zone, Protect Every New Yorker, We Are Not Fracking Guinea Pigs! and DEC: Do Your Job! Stop the Fracking Insanity!
New Yorkers Against Fracking, a new coalition of diverse organizations that support a fracking ban, are joining together to tell Governor Cuomo and our leaders in Albany to stand up for New Yorkers to keep our water and our state safe by banning hydrofracking.
Founding members of New Yorkers Against Fracking include statewide and national organizations like Citizen Action of New York, New York State Breast Cancer Network, Food & Water Watch, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Frack Action, Water Defense, the Working Families Party joining with local grassroots anti-fracking groups and business in each part of the state such as Brewery Ommegang, Frack-Free Catskills and Fingerlakes Clean Waters Initiative and many more. Click here for a full list of the more than 100 organizations involved.
Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., author, biologist, advocate and recent winner of the prestigious Heinz Award for her life's work, donated a significant portion of her award to help prevent fracking in New York—providing the seed money for this effort. Diagnosed with cancer in her youth, Steingraber is a central voice in the fight against fracking and has devoted her career to understanding the ways in which chemical contaminants in air, water and food endanger human health.
Sandra will serve as an honorary member of the New Yorkers Against Fracking advisory committee. Joining Sandra as honorary advisory committee members will be Niagara native, former Love Canal resident and founder of Center for Health, Environment and Justice Lois Gibbs and outspoken anti-fracking advocate and upstate resident and actor Mark Ruffalo, co-founder of Water Defense.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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