One Million Americans Lead Grassroots Effort for Clean Energy Agenda
Fed up with the undue influence of the energy companies, utilities, lobbyists and other interests that are making it impossible for Washington to move forward decisively in achieving America’s clean energy future, 36 citizen organizations with more than 1.1 million combined members are joining forces to advance a nine-point “American Clean Energy Agenda” and to push for a serious renewable energy agenda no matter who is the next president or which party controls Congress.
The American Clean Energy Agenda is available online by clicking here.
As crafted by the groups, the new American Clean Energy Agenda calls for a number of bold steps, including: phasing out nuclear power, natural gas, coal and industrial biomass in favor of efficient use of renewable, non-polluting resources; opposition to a “clean energy standard” that includes coal, nuclear, oil, gas and unsustainable biomass; retooling federal “loan guarantees” to make smarter investments in renewable energy; greater emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs; and avoiding a future in which Americans suffer the consequences of mountaintop mining for coal and fracking of shale gas that is then exported for use in other nations.
Organized by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the emergence of the new network of citizen-run organizations reflects a deep dissatisfaction among Americans about the iron grip maintained by the energy industry and its lobbyists in promoting the non-solution of an “all of the above” approach to energy that would preserve the worst options and dilute the focus on real solutions.
How do the three dozen groups know they reflect the thinking of the vast majority of Americans? On April 25, 2012, the Civil Society Institute released a national opinion poll conducted by ORC International finding that:
• More than three out of four Americans (77 percent)—including 70 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats—believe that “the energy industry's extensive and well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to moving beyond business as usual when it comes to America’s energy policy.”
• More than eight out of 10 Americans (83 percent)—including 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats—agree with the following statement: “The time is now for a new, grassroots-driven politics to realize a renewable energy future. Congress is debating large public investments in energy and we need to take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support renewable energy—one that protects public health, promotes energy independence and the economic well being of all Americans.”
CSI President Pam Solo said:
“It is time for the communities who are suffering the ill effects of fracking, mountaintop mining, and other forms of wasteful and dangerous energy production to have a say in moving America to a clean energy future. The political power of the energy industry has deferred a clean energy agenda at the expense of the health and safety of too many communities in the country. To those who will say that these groups do not have a place at the policy-making table, we say this: These are exactly the people who need to be heard. The harms caused by continued reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power may not be felt in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, but they are experienced in the heartland of this nation. We do not have the money, the water or the time to waste delaying and deferring serious solutions to these hidden costs of relying on an old energy path. This agenda puts the burden of proof on those who claim that coal can be clean, fracking natural gas is not harmful, and nuclear power is safe. It is time for reason and precaution over politics. The health of Americans and our environment can no longer be made a secondary priority behind energy development at any price.”
Heather White, chief of staff, Environmental Working Group, said:
"Whether it be oil and shale gas drilling, coal mining or nuclear energy, this coalition of grassroots experts have witnessed firsthand the devastating impacts of mountaintop mining removal, fracking for natural gas, uranium mining and nuclear waste. We've banded together to take back our clean energy future from the seemingly all-powerful big oil, natural gas and energy companies that continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep us trapped in a dirty energy economy. As this research shows, the vast majority of Americans agree that we need clean, renewable energy, and don't want big subsidies flowing to oil and nuclear companies. They want us to invest in energy efficiency, renewable and technology to ensure an economically viable and livable economy. We must make a clear choice that will put the nation on the right track to clean energy future."
As signed by the supporting citizen organization, the American Clean Energy Agenda statement reads, in part as follows: “The time is now for a new, grassroots-driven politics to bring about a renewable energy future. As Congress debates major new public investments in energy, we need to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support an energy system that protects public health, promotes energy independence and ensures the economic well being of all Americans.
The precautionary principle must be the lodestar for the effort to create a new energy future for America that goes “beyond business as usual.” In the energy sphere, the core of the precautionary principle is to prevent degradation of the environment, protect public health, preserve access to clean water, sustain the electric grid and combat global climate change, all while laying the basis for an adequate standard of living for today’s populations and future generations .
We, the undersigned, agree to this fundamental principle and further commit to work toward a truly renewable, sustainable energy standard that built on the following shared premises:
1. We must generate the political will to create a sustainable healthy energy future by 2030 by accelerating the phase-out of nuclear power, natural gas, coal and industrial biomass and driving a grand transition to efficient use of renewable, non-polluting resources.
2. Achieving a sustainable energy future hinges on grassroots organizing to mobilize and educate the public and to demand support from our community, business, and political leaders.
3. The entrenched dirty energy industry’s public relations machine and lobbyists block the path to healthy energy options and sources. We will expose their misleading tactics and promote a truly healthy and renewable energy system.
4. The renewable energy standard is a proven model for a sustainable future, and our goal is to see it implemented on a national basis—as it already is in many states and other nations. We oppose the so-called “clean energy standard” as a dishonest political ploy designed to protect polluting energy industries—coal, nuclear, oil, gas and unsustainable biomass—that have brought us to the crisis we are in today.
5. We urge our local, state and federal authorities with jurisdiction over energy generation, power distribution and rate-setting to ensure a level playing field for renewable energy and efficiency. It is essential to take fully into account the long-term risks and costs to health, environment and communities of all energy resources, and to adopt policies based on least cost to consumers and minimal risk. We urge specific policies that will ensure this full reckoning as well as strong energy efficiency standards that minimize the demand for resources and provide good jobs and clear benefits to consumers.
6. We hold that the overall use of taxpayer dollars for energy projects—whether called “subsidies,” “tax incentives” or “loan guarantees”—currently runs counter to the public interest. Government incentives must benefit public health, economic well-being and the environment. We will develop clear guidelines to direct smarter public investment in energy.
7. We will educate our fellow citizens about the negative impacts of water-intensive energy choices on human and environmental health. Families and communities deserve clean air, access to clean water, safe, sustainable food and good health.
8. We will demonstrate that renewable energy and energy efficiency programs can be flexibly configured and adapted across the country to accommodate regional differences in energy portfolios.
9. Exporting dirty energy harms public health and contaminates our water, with the result that Americans pay the environmental and health price of meeting the energy needs of other countries while gaining nothing in the way of energy independence. Exporting coal extracted by mountaintop removal and shale gas obtained by fracking are especially egregious examples. Forcing U.S. industries to compete with other nations for domestic supplies is likely to drive up prices dramatically and may cause them to relocate overseas.”
The 36 organizations joining together to support the agenda are: Appalachian Citizens Law Center; Beyond Nuclear; Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy; Chesapeake Climate Action Network; Christians for the Mountains; Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana; Citizens' Greener Evanston; Civil Society Institute; Clean Air Council; Coal River Mountain Watch; Community Environmental Defense Council; Dakota Resource Council; Don’t Waste Michigan; Environmental Advocates of New York; Environmental Working Group; GRACE Communications Foundation; Healthy Planet; Kentucky Coalition; Long Island Progressive Coalition; Northern Plains Resource Council; Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Oregon Rural Action; Otsego 2000; Partnership for Policy Integrity; Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Sustainable and Healthy Energy; Powder River Basin Resource Council; Renewable Energy Long Island; Responsible Drilling Alliance; Shut Down Indian Point Now; Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment; VT Citizens Action Network; West Michigan Jobs Group; Western Colorado Congress; Western Organization of Resource Councils; and Women’s Energy Matters.
The 36 organizations work on the ground in the following 23 states (plus the District of Columbia): California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
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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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