Table Of Contents

    Policymakers hope to provide additional resources to restore Puerto Rico's power grid, while encouraging the use of renewable energy in the reconstruction process. Image courtesy of Patricia Fontanet Rodriguez with the U.S. Army.


    West Virginia Hosted EPA’s Sole Public Hearing on the Clean Power Plan Repeal

    On November 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its sole public hearing addressing the fate of the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). The hearing was scheduled for two days in Charleston, West Virginia, a state with deep economic and historical ties to the coal industry. By contrast, the Obama administration held four multi-day public hearings to gather feedback on the CPP in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington in 2015. The proposal to repeal or revise the CPP will remain open to public comment until January 6, 2018. At the hearing, advocates for the current iteration of the CPP were countered by miners and executives from the coal industry. Many West Virginia residents in attendance voiced support for the regulation, citing the health problems created by the air pollution and environmental degradation brought about by the mining and combustion of coal. Retired coal miner Stanley Sturgill stated that although he earned a living from mining, “We paid a terrible price. They destroyed our mountains, our streams, and our health.”

    For more information see:

    Chicago Tribune, Utility Dive

    Comprehensive Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico to Be Introduced in Senate

    On November 28, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill outlining a $146 billion recovery plan for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as the American territories struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The bill includes $62 billion to assist Puerto Rico’s government, $51 billion for economic development, and $27 billion for infrastructure development. The bill would also facilitate the installation of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, to provide around 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity. Hundreds of millions in grants would be allocated for homeowners in the two territories to install renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Steven Kyle of Cornell University said, “The case for renewables is that it’s the cheapest way to do it, and certainly the cheapest in the island’s isolated communities. Since they’re starting from zero, they have a unique opportunity here.” The current political climate and competing emergency aid agendas makes Sanders’ bill highly unlikely to come to a vote.

    For more information see:

    Washington Post

    Puerto Rico Seeks to Rebuild Grid with an Emphasis on Renewable Energy

    In addition to food and water, Puerto Rico received an unusual form of disaster relief: solar panels. The organization Resilient Power Puerto Rico has received thousands of donated solar panels to use in community solar hubs. The goal of the initiative is to install solar hubs in 100 towns within 100 days. Organization co-founder Walter Meyer believes that Puerto Rico has the potential to rebuild its grid with 100 percent renewable energy at an estimated cost of $30-$40 billion. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello’s goal is to achieve 25 percent wind and solar energy, a less ambitious, but still significant metric. Rosello hopes that renewable-powered microgrid systems will be more resilient and cost-efficient in the long-run. The price of electricity in Puerto Rico before the storm was triple the price in Florida due to the costs of transporting fuel to the island. Only two percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity was generated by renewable sources in 2016.

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    Coastal States Increasingly Turn to Costly, Temporary Methods to Fight Beach Erosion

    North Carolina is struggling to stay ahead of rising sea levels and maintain its receding shorelines. Nags Head, one of many communities in the state’s tourist-driven Outer Banks region, has adopted the now-common practice of “nourishment,” or dredging sand from the sea floor and using it to restore eroding beaches. The town plans to spend up to $48 million on nourishment in 2018 alone. Home owners have moved their buildings away from the encroaching sea over decades, but a lack of available land and steady erosion have made renourishment the only option for homes to remain close to the ocean. Out of North Carolina’s 160 miles of developed beaches, three-quarters of it is scheduled for renourishment. Stanley Riggs, a geologist at East Carolina University, observed, "We have 127 miles of communities … that, in order to have an economy next year, they've got to pump sand because there's no beach anymore. This whole system is collapsing." Other towns have tried to purchase and condemn properties that are highly vulnerable to flooding and storm damage, but holdouts and legal battles have complicated the process.

    For more information see:

    InsideClimate News


    Melting Glaciers Brought Bounty to Peru, but May Soon Dry Up

    Melting glaciers in the Andes Mountains brought water and wealth to the villages below, but this bounty appears to be drying up. Since the 1980s, the Peruvian government has invested heavily in water infrastructure. The Peruvian government spent $825 million on an irrigation project that enabled the cultivation of crops in arid regions. The Santa River provides water to 700,000 people and hydroelectric power to 50,000. Warmer temperatures allow farmers to now grow two corn crops annually, although a variety of pests thrive in the heat. Now, the water that made the Viru region of Peru fertile may run out. The Cordillera Blanca icecap, an important source of water for the region, has shrunk 40 percent since 1970. The icecap is currently receding at a rate of 30 feet per year. The receding ice threatens to bring drought, as well as the release of heavy metals such as lead into the groundwater supply, poisoning crops and livestock. Scientists predict that the ice on Cordillera Blanca will be mostly gone by 2050.

    For more information see:

    New York Times


    President Trump’s Environmental Legacy Is in the Courts

    Since taking office, President Trump has acted swiftly to fill vacancies in the federal court system. The federal judges appointed by Trump could have a lasting impact on environmental policy. Most environmental laws in the United States predate current issues. Today, the courts often decide how to apply these old laws to recent cases. The Clean Air Act, the law that formed the basis of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), has not been significantly amended since 1990. President Trump has not begun to tip the ideological balance of the court system yet, as Obama administration appointees still make up 40 percent of the active federal judiciary. For instance, the appeals courts that make up the 10th Circuit, which decides many federal land disputes that arise in western states, remain dominated by liberal judges. Furthermore, the influence of the courts is ultimately determined by Congress, which could ultimately have a greater hand in reshaping environmental policy by passing new laws in the future.

    For more information see:

    Scientific American

    Climate Scientists Self-Censor to Avoid Political Repercussions

    NPR analyzed grant applications to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and found a 40 percent decrease in the number of applications containing the term “climate change” in the title or summary since the beginning of 2017. Instead, scientists seem to prefer alternative wording, such as “extreme heat” or “global change.” Harvard University ecologist Jonathan Thompson said that scientists’ apparent self-censorship, “seems to be born out of an abundance of caution to limit their exposure to any political landmines in what is already an extremely competitive process.” There is no evidence that using the term “climate change” impacts the decision-making of NSF, which has a reputation as a trusted and independent source of federal research funding. However, earlier this year, the Department of Energy told a researcher at Northwestern University to remove the words “global warming” and “climate change” from a public abstract of a study funded by the agency. Some scientists worry that this kind of political interference could undermine the quality and integrity of their work.

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    Rainfall Study Suggests Houston’s Floodplain Maps Are Outdated

    Preliminary analysis of rainfall patterns across Texas indicates that the current set of floodplain regulations and maps for Houston regularly underestimates the severity of the region’s precipitation. The report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assessed decades of rainfall data, including Hurricane Harvey. The report found that the amount of rain that would qualify a “100-year storm,” an event with an estimated one-percent chance of occurring in a given year, has increased by 3-5 inches for Harris County since 2002. Meaning, city managers should be planning for greater amounts of runoff from storms and current floodplain maps should be revised. Floodplain maps are used to assess the risk of flood damage for properties, making them influential in determining insurance rates and regulatory decisions. Matt Zeve, director of operations at the Harris County Flood Control District, said, "[Changes to the maps] would change how infrastructure is designed. It's going to affect people that don't even know that they will be affected." The final results of the NOAA report will be released in May 2018.

    For more information see:

    Houston Chronicle


    Cities and States Could Face Credit Downgrade for Lack of Climate Preparedness

    In a new client report, Moody’s Investors Service Inc. urged cities and states to better prepare for anticipated climate change impacts. According to the bond rating agency, failure to act could put those government entities at a greater risk of defaulting on their financial obligations in the future. The report names six indicators the agency uses to “assess the exposure and overall susceptibility of U.S. states to the physical effects of climate change,” including the share of economic activity produced by coastal areas, the share of the economy affected by extreme weather event damages, and the number of homes found in flood plains. Based on Moody’s assessment, Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi are among the states with the highest level of risk from climate change. Lenny Jones, a managing director at Moody’s, said, "What we want people to realize is: If you’re exposed, we know that. We’re going to ask questions about what you’re doing to mitigate that exposure. That’s taken into your credit ratings."

    For more information see:



    Report: Ohio River Basin to Experience Severe Disruptions from Climate Change

    According to a new report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Ohio River basin is likely to face significant economic and environmental challenges due to climate change. The most severe impacts may not arrive until 20 years from now, but Army Corps climate expert Kathleen D. White said the 13-state region is already dealing with these issues today. The Ohio River basin is home to 27 million people spread across 2,400 urban and rural communities. Report contributor and University of Massachusetts professor Paul Kirshen said, “[The Ohio River] contributes a great deal to the economy of the region and the environment of the region. And it is going to be pretty severely impacted by climate change.” The report predicts the region will experience increasingly severe storms; more frequent and heavy droughts that could threaten drinking water supplies, commerce, and electricity generation; extreme ecological shifts that could decimate aquatic life; and unprecedented economic losses. The report also explores recommendations for climate adaptation.

    For more information see:

    Louisville Courier Journal



    Trump Administration Issues Permit for Drilling in U.S. Arctic Waters

    International Proposal to Formally Recognize Environmental Refugees Resurfaces

    Canadian Policymakers to Introduce Federal Law Requiring Polluters to Pay for Carbon Emissions

    China Attempts to Pivot from Unbridled Economic Growth to Environmental Oversight

    Hurricane Season for 2017 Most Expensive Ever for United States


    Writers: Beatrix Scolari and Kiara Ryan
    Editor: Brian La Shier