Hillary Clinton Announces 2016 Presidential Bid: Find Out Where She Stands on Climate
There's a cliche among those who are discouraged by the political climate that "there's no difference between the candidates." Now that Hillary Clinton has made her official, anticipated-for-years announcement that she will be running for president in 2016, making her the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, it's time to look at where she stands on environmental issues versus where the Republican field of millions—OK, dozens—stands.
The GOP field has two official candidates so far—senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Florida Sen. Mario Rubio is expected to announce today. Numerous other hopefuls, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, are making moves, such as visits to key primary states like New Hampshire, that show they'd like to be in the race as well.
The only other clear likely candidate in the Democratic field is immediate past Gov. of Maryland Martin O'Malley, who is campaigning vigorously but has not announced his candidacy.
You're going to hear grumbling from some environmentalists about Hillary's lack of perfection. One particular sticking point is her failure to say where she stands on approving the Keystone XL pipeline. She told an audience in Winnipeg in January, "You won’t get me to talk about Keystone because I have steadily made clear that I’m not going to express an opinion. It is in our process and that’s where it belongs."
When she spoke to at the League of Conservation Voters' (LCV) annual dinner in December, much of the media coverage again centered on her failure to say anything about the Keystone XL pipeline. The Washington Post ran a piece saying "Her refusal to take a stand on Keystone has disappointed some of the loudest—and richest—environmental activists who view the project as a test of a candidate’s environmental bona fides."
But what about everything else? Taking a look at the full range of Hillary's positions on the environmental issues and comparing them with the positions and votes of the Republican field, it's clear that a climate voter—and the planet—can't afford the luxury of claiming they're all the same. Virtually every entrant into the GOP field is a climate denier to a great or lesser degree.
"The science of climate change is unforgiving no matter what the deniers may say," said Hillary at the LCV dinner. "Sea levels are raising, ice caps are melting, storms, droughts and wildfires are wreaking havoc, 13 of the top 14 warmest years in recorded history have happened since 2000, and this past summer scientists found levels of carbon diode in our atmosphere not seen in hundreds of thousands of years."
That's not a statement you're likely to hear from any of the GOP candidates. Take only the two announced candidates as examples. Cruz is a full-throated supporter of unlimited, unregulated fossil fuel exploration and extraction or, as he put it "remove the barriers to every form of energy." He has said there is no global warming and trotted out the debunked theory that there was "global cooling" in the ’70s. "The problem with climate change is there’s never been a day in the history of the world in which the climate is not changing,” he said. Rand Paul has said that the science behind climate change is "not conclusive" and that anyone who ties extreme weather events to climate change is an "ignoramus."
Speaking at the LCV dinner, Hillary praised the group's advocacy for the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, adding, "Years later, you pushed for and rallied behind President Obama's use of the Clean Air Act to set the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants which are driving the most dangerous effects of climate change. The unprecedented action President Obama has taken must be protected at all costs."
Most of the GOP field has vowed to eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or severely cripple it, and to roll back or repeal virtual every environmental protection regulation of the last four and a half decades from the Clean Water Act of 1972 to President Obama's Clean Power Plant rule of last year to cut carbon emissions and phase out dirty coal-fired plants.
In her presentation to LCV, Hillary acknowledged both the difficulty and importance of acting on climate change.
"The political challenges are also unforgiving," she said. "There is no getting around the fact that the kind of ambitious response required to effectively combat climate change is going to be a tough sell at home and around the world at a time when so many countries including our own are grappling with slow growth and stretched budgets. Our economy still runs primarily on fossil fuels and trying to change that will require strong leadership and intense cooperation. In many places we are beginning to move past the old false choice between protecting our environment and growing our economy and instead finally committing to do both. American’s ability to lead the world on climate change hinges on what we do here at home. No other country will fall in line just because we tell them to. They have to see us doing it."
She was interrupted by applause once during her approximately 20-minute speech. That was when she addressed the issue of natural gas development and, by inference, fracking.
She said, "I know many of us have serious concerns about the risks associated with the rapidly expanding production of natural gas which is transforming our domestic energy landscape. Methane leaks and the production and transportation of natural gas pose a particularly troubling threat. So it is crucial that we put in place smart regulations and enforce them including deciding not to drill when the risk to local communities, landscape and ecosystems are just too high."
But she added, "If we’re smart about this and put in place the right safeguards, yes, natural gas can play an important bridge role in the transition to a cleaner energy economy,” a statement likely not received too warmly by many of those who had just applauded her, but one that recognizes that natural gas is no long-term answer.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
But whether environmentalists agree with her on that issue or not, the overall difference between Hillary and her potential competitors is stark. She has an 82 percent lifetime score from LCV for her votes when she was in the U.S. Senate. (Many of the votes that kept her score from being higher were favoring offshore oil drilling). Paul and Rubio have a lifetime scores of 9 percent; Cruz checks in at 11 percent. All three have scores of zero for last year's session.
The only Republican who's expressed interest in running who isn't an all-star on the climate denial team is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the longest of long shots. He acknowledged late last year that climate denial could be a problem for his party in the presidential race.
“I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment,” said Graham. “I don’t know what the environmental policy of the Republican Party is.”
The real problem is that the rest of the candidate field, as well as Graham's GOP colleagues in Congress, are making it only too clear.
"The Sierra Club is pleased to welcome Hillary Clinton into the 2016 Presidential field," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “With the implementation of the Clean Power Plan and critical climate negotiations in Paris on the horizon, climate action will be a major theme in the 2016 election. This election, Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to build on her strong environmental record, bring real leadership to the climate fight and lay out her plan to grow the American clean energy economy."
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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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