Why Is HUD Ghosting America’s Hurricane-Ravaged Communities?
By Jeff Turrentine
The costliest hurricane season in our nation's history took place two years ago, when 17 named storms—including three that went by the names of Harvey, Irma and Maria—all came ashore within a six-month period, killing more than 3,300 Americans and causing more than $300 billion in damage. So when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last April that it would be distributing nearly $16 billion in mitigation funding to the areas hit hardest by storm activity since 2015, officials in places like Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands must have breathed a little easier.
Alongside the $12 billion HUD was already releasing for immediate disaster relief, the added funds would help states and communities protect their residents from future disasters by paying for desperately needed improvements to infrastructure, such as revamping stormwater drainage systems, raising homes and roads, and building levees and seawalls. Last year, the National Institute of Building Sciences released a report showing that for every $1 spent on disaster mitigation, the nation saves $6 in future disaster costs. So $16 billion could go a long way.
As they envisioned the many ways in which they could put this funding to good use, state officials might be forgiven for having glossed over the final, innocuous-sounding sentence in HUD's statement, which stipulated that HUD would be "issu[ing] administrative guidelines shortly for the use of the funds to address grantees' long-term recovery needs." That word—shortly—is a tricky one. It can mean different things to different people. In this particular instance, folks expecting to be on the receiving end of the $16 billion probably interpreted it to mean: as soon as possible, since we at HUD know you're all eager to get started on the kinds of huge (and hugely expensive) projects that will help keep your communities from flooding, sinking, or being blown to bits during the next major hurricane.
But apparently that's not what shortly means to HUD officials. Because nearly one year later, there's been no sign whatsoever of those promised administrative guidelines. What's more, HUD officials have been giving the brush-off to states and localities that have begun to inquire—with increasing frustration—as to when said guidelines might be issued.
Why are these guidelines so important? Because what HUD is calling guidelines is really a set of rules defining how the $16 billion in funding can be used in the individual mitigation plans drafted by state and local governments. Once the rules are published in the Federal Register, these governments can immediately begin drafting those plans. But they can't get started without knowing what the rules are. And they can't get access to the funding without first submitting their mitigation plans to HUD for the agency's approval. So basically, until HUD publishes the rules, nothing else can happen. Everything's at a standstill.
Red tape is red tape, and the federal government has never been known for acting especially quickly. But what's proving more worrisome to the state and local governments that are relying on this funding is the radio silence they've been encountering whenever they try to find out what, exactly, is going on. One spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office, the state agency that would oversee any mitigation plans for the highly vulnerable Texas Gulf Coast, recently told E&E News that her office hasn't been able to get a straight answer from HUD despite making almost daily inquiries. Her boss, General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush, spent his January sending the Trump administration sharply worded letters condemning the delay as "unacceptable," demanding that HUD make its publication of the rules "a top priority," and otherwise making it clear that Texas "cannot afford to wait any longer."
Finally, HUD seemed to arise from its bureaucratic torpor and address the issue, albeit weakly. An unnamed spokesperson for the agency suggested to an E&E News reporter that the delay wasn't due to administrative incompetence, but rather to extra-thoughtful deliberation on its part: HUD, this spokesperson said, required nearly a full year to "build a [grant] program from the ground up." This grudgingly disclosed excuse doesn't satisfy one Texas General Land Office employee, who notes that the complete lack of response from HUD thus far—no specifics, no drafts, no details of any kind—has led the office "to believe that the rules may not exist in the first place."
In other words, there's every reason to believe that HUD officials totally dropped the ball and are now trying to make it look as though they're just very carefully studying the ball: analyzing it, observing it from every conceivable angle, all to make sure that when the time comes, they can deliver the best ball possible to the people who need it.
Even if that were the truth—and not merely a face-saving story, which it almost certainly is—there would be a huge, glaring problem with it: The time for HUD to act came and went a long time ago. The 2019 North Atlantic hurricane season begins in less than four months. Even if the agency were to publish the guidelines tomorrow, finally freeing up state and local governments to set their action plans in motion, the public-review and approval processes would still stretch into the danger zone. Through its negligence, HUD is making communities still coping with crippling disasters even more vulnerable to future ones.
As President Trump weighs whether or not the situation at our southern border constitutes a national emergency—despite all the evidence indicating that it doesn't—it's worth considering what an actual national emergency looks like. I'd proffer that the current, desperate situation on our coastlines and island territories merits the designation. I'm willing to bet that the millions of Americans who live in these places agree.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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