Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

After the Storm: The Importance of Acknowledging Environmental Justice in Sustainable Development and Disaster Preparedness

Academic journal article Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum

After the Storm: The Importance of Acknowledging Environmental Justice in Sustainable Development and Disaster Preparedness

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal... Problem solved.

-Stephen Colbert (1)

In 2012, scientists from North Carolina's state-appointed Coastal Resources Commission issued a climate change report, predicting a thirty nine-inch sea level rise by 2100, which would put over 2,000 square miles of coastal real estate market in danger. (2) North Carolina legislators responded by passing a law that would ban the use of the report. (3) The new law required that the commission issue a new report, using only historical data, with an outlook of thirty years instead of 100, which showed a smaller increase in sea levels. (4) The law also required the commission to balance the economic costs to the state if it began to limit real estate development in the coastal area based on the predicted sea-level rise. (5) Since the bill was passed, a 2017 study by Valle-Levinson et al. has predicted that sea levels will rise even faster than expected - at a rate of about one inch per year. (6) And, as far as economic costs are concerned, the sea-level rise flooding is expected to put 2.5 million homes and businesses at risk, while a recent study from the United States Geological Services, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that $7.4 billion in home values have already been lost across the Carolinas, Virgina, Georgia and Florida due to flooding attributed to sea-level rise from 2005-2017. (7) So, when North Carolina was warned of the rising seas, it chose to favor development over climate science. (8) Five years later, Hurricane Florence, a 1,000-year rain event, blew through North Carolina, leaving an estimated $22 billion in damages in its wake, flooding coal ash impoundments and industrial hog operations. (9) The forty-six year old coal ash impoundment next to Duke Energy's L.V. Sutton power plant near Wilmington was continually inundated with water, sending coal ash pouring into the Cape Fear River, and as a result, concerning nearby residents about the levels of toxic heavy metals flowing into the river. (10)

Less than a year earlier, researchers had determined that when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston in 2017, at least thirty-eight percent of the storm's record rainfall was due to global warming. (11) When Hurricane Harvey hit, it caused over $125 billion in damage to Houston and flooded 800 wastewater treatment facilities and thirteen Superfund sites, spreading toxic chemicals and sewage across parts of the city. (12) A recent survery reported that twenty-seven percent of Hispanic Texans whose homes were damaged reported that the homes were still unsafe to live in, compared to twenty percent of blacks and eleven percent of the white population. (13) Similar disparities were also found by the survey with regard to income levels: fifty percent of lower-income residents reported that they were not receiving the help that they needed, as compared to thirty-two percent of those earning higher incomes. (14) Another key finding of the survey indicated that those affected residents who are African-American, have lower incomes, or live in the Golden Triangle area in Houston, (15) were more likely to say their lives were still disrupted and less likely to say they are getting the help they need with recovery. (16) The Golden Triangle, also known as 'The Cancer Belt,' is home to the largest concentration of petrochemical refineries in the world. (17) The refineries and other surrounding chemical and synthetic rubber plants located in the Golden Triangle have a history (18) of using dangerous chemicals, some of which were released during and after Hurricane Harvey, all while the state of Texas suspended reporting regulations for these companies in the months following the hurricane. (19)

The combination of the lack of available resources to low-income individuals, leaching of chemicals, and the suspension of regulation are concerning during a normal day in Houston or Wilmington, but what about post-hurricane conditions and the resulting environmental issues in a hard-hit industrial area? …

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