Table Of Contents

    The residents of Puerto Rico are struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as federal aid has been slow to reach those in need. Photo courtesy of USDA via


    Federal Aid Is Slow to Reach the People of Puerto Rico Following Hurricane Maria

    Emergency supplies, including food, water, and fuel, are piling up at Puerto Rico's ports and other distribution hubs due to a severe lack of capacity to distribute those goods to communities spread across the island. Buildings that would typically receive supplies were destroyed and truck drivers have been stymied by downed power lines and poles on the fragile roads. Puerto Rico's power infrastructure suffered a "total collapse," with even urban areas facing weeks or months without electricity. Officials and residents have also warned about the risk of diseases spreading if clean water remains unavailable. Critics have questioned the speed and scale of the U.S. government's response to Puerto Rico's struggles, noting that a far greater number of American military assets and emergency aid were mobilized following the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. The Posse Comitatus Act, limiting the involvement of active military personnel in the territory, and the Jones Act, requiring goods shipments to be made from U.S. ports on American-flagged vessels, have weighed down the potential response. In an email read before a Senate committee, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla wrote, "Unless we see a dramatic increase in assistance and personnel reaching the island soon, many thousands could die. We need the Army and the National Guard deployed throughout the island, now, today."

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    Bloomberg, Washington Post

    Environmental Groups Ask for Expansion of Successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

    On September 25, representatives of the nine states engaged in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) met to discuss the extension of the program from 2020 through 2030. RGGI places emission caps on power plants generating at least 25 megawatts of electricity from fossil fuels. Eligible plants may purchase emission allowances through an auction, with the proceeds used to fund renewable energy and efficiency projects. Pollution from Northeastern power plants has been cut by 30 percent over the past ten years. Environmental groups are pushing for RGGI to place caps on smaller power plants that are currently not covered by the cap, but pollute adjacent neighborhoods. Johana Vicente, of the advocacy group Chispa Maryland, said, “We urge [Maryland officials] to work to ensure that the communities most affected by environmental degradation are getting the benefits from RGGI.” States participating in RGGI have brought in $2.8 billion from the emission auctions since 2008 and reduced emissions 15 percent faster than non-participating states.

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    Baltimore Sun

    California to Defend Obama Administration’s Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards

    California state regulators are ready to resist efforts by the Trump administration to overturn vehicle fuel efficiency standards put in place by the Obama administration. Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), said, “We’re standing firm. We’re prepared to sue. We aren't going anywhere." The mandatory standards would almost double the average fuel economy of cars by 2025 relative to 2012 levels, mitigating six billion metric tons of emissions and saving drivers over $1 trillion in gasoline consumption. Automakers have argued that meeting the standards would be prohibitively expensive, distort manufacturing trends, and raise prices for consumers. The U.S. EPA recently opened a review of the standards, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he will not challenge California’s right to set its own emissions standards. The auto industry is fearful that a split between California and federal authorities could result in two distinct auto markets separated by different regulatory standards.

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    New York Times

    New York City Announces Ambitious Plan for Reducing Building Emissions

    New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that his city will soon mandate existing buildings to significantly reduce their carbon emissions. The proposed mandate would take effect in 2030 and apply to thousands of buildings larger than 25,000 square feet. The plan seeks to impose a stringent “fossil fuel cap” for buildings. To comply, most buildings will need more efficient heating and cooling systems, the source of most of their emissions. Heating buildings is responsible for 42 percent of New York City’s carbon emissions. Commenting on the absence of financial incentives to ease compliance with the plan, Mayor de Blasio said, "We gave people a very fair amount of time in the private sector to come forward and really agree to voluntary goals. It was time to move to mandates." Advocacy group Tenants and Neighbors expressed concern that the cost of compliance would be legally passed on to tenants through the city's existing Major Capital Improvement policy.

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    Houston Residents Still Reeling from Flood Damage Wrought by Hurricane Harvey

    The recovery of the Houston metropolitan area has been harried by bureaucratic snags, delayed responses, and the massive scale of the destruction incurred. Harris County, where Houston resides, received more than 50 inches of rain over four days, equivalent to what the region may receive in an average year. The county saw around 136,000 structures flooded, leaving behind damaged buildings, piles of debris, and the threat of mold. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established 40 disaster recovery centers in Texas to allow individuals to register for assistance and obtain low-interest loans. More than 800,000 individuals have sought out help through FEMA, with $1.1 billion in grants and federal loans issued to date. However, most residents of Harris County lack federal flood insurance. FEMA spokesperson Peter Herrick noted, "A lot of these people live outside of the high-risk areas for flooding and so they weren’t required to have flood insurance and many of them chose not to."

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    Caribbean Nations Face Daunting Task of Rebuilding After Twin Hurricanes

    Following the damage inflicted upon the islands of Dominica and Barbuda by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, international officials are calling for the construction of more resilient buildings and the development of additional safety measures as part of rebuilding efforts. Barbuda's 1,800 residents lost most of their buildings and crops due to Irma, while Dominica's population of 73,000 suffered 15 casualties from Maria. United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Jessica Faieta said, "Building back better becomes extremely important for the Caribbean," adding, "We are going to see more of these (disasters) ... such weather is going to become the norm rather than the exception." Faieta also called for financing to assist Caribbean nations struck by the hurricanes, noting that those governments do not have the resources to fully pay for a recovery effort on their own. The region is highly dependent on fishing, agriculture, and tourism, all of which were heavily affected by the storms. Reconstruction is expected to run into the billions of dollars.

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    Governors Tout Subnational Role in Delivering on Paris Agreement Goals

    On September 25, the governors of Washington, California, and New York participated in a roundtable event in New York City with foreign environment ministers at the United Nations. The trio's goal was to highlight the determination of individual U.S. states to address climate change, in hopes of encouraging other countries to maintain their participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. Gov. Inslee stated, "There is nothing that Donald Trump can do to stop us in our states from advancing these policies." The three governors are co-chairs of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 14 states and Puerto Rico that pledge to honor the Paris Agreement. Coalition members collectively reduced their emissions by 15 percent between 2005 and 2015, with projections showing a reduction of 24-29 percent by 2025. The group is expected to announce new initiatives during the upcoming UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany. Despite the plethora of state policy options, critics note that the federal government is still needed to enforce certain policies, such as national fuel economy standards for vehicles.

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    High Country News


    Hurricane Maria May Spur Migration to United States

    Hurricane Maria inflicted serious damage on Puerto Rico and may serve as a catalyst for a major wave of migration. The hurricane arrived at a moment of economic vulnerability for Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory declared bankruptcy in May 2017 and is unable to pay its $70 billion debt. Population loss from migration would further harm the island's economic recovery and decrease vital tax revenues. Puerto Ricans have the right to move anywhere in the United States and some are worried about how a sudden influx of people could strain certain cities with limited housing inventories. If Puerto Rican residents flee due to the hurricane's aftermath, they will become part of a growing population of climate migrants around the world. Researchers at the International Monetary Fund examined weather and emigration patterns in more than 100 nations over three decades and found that, “A rise in temperature and greater incidence of weather-related disasters increase out-migration."

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    New Study Sheds Light on Psychological Impacts of Extreme Flooding Events

    A new study published in the journal World Development looks at the psychological consequences of the 2010 floods in Pakistan, which left about one-fifth of the country under water. Researchers surveyed people in Pakistan about their future goals and found that those who experienced flooding were less aspirational and less likely to make investments than those who did not. Flood victims had lower hopes for their future income and their children’s education relative to their economic peers. However, flood victims who received government aid maintained the same level of aspiration as those unaffected by the flood. Study co-author Katrina Kosec said, "Imagine you're in a circumstance where you feel you have no control over what happens to you. In that circumstance it doesn't really make sense to forgo income today and to make sacrifices for the future." Sudden disasters can weaken people’s sense of stability. Recent hurricanes in the United States raise questions about the psychological resilience of Americans coping with disasters.

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    Climate Change to Bring More Hot Days and Health Risks to Miami

    Miami’s hot temperatures can prove deadly when air conditioning fails, as it did tragically for a nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma where 11 residents suffered heat-related fatalities. The number of extreme heat days with a heat index topping 105 degrees Fahrenheit is expected to increase in coming years. A study by Climate Central predicts that there will be 126 extreme heat days in Miami by 2030, versus 24 such days in 2000. Heat is already the deadliest weather-related event in the United States. Miami has made efforts to minimize heat risks by ensuring reliable backup generation in key public spaces, such as hospitals, and by planting more trees in the densely-packed Little Havana neighborhood. “What we all need to realize is these excessive heat events will happen more and more often, all over the world, and we all need to be more aware of the potential health impacts,” said Laurence Kalkstein, Climatology Professor at the University of Miami.

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    California Considering a Ban on the Sale of Internal-Combustion Engine Vehicles

    Poll: Majority of Americans Blame Recent Severity of Hurricanes on Climate Change

    U.S. Petcoke Exports Are Contributing to Severe Air Pollution in New Delhi, India

    Antarctic Sea Ice Projected to Reach Lowest Level Ever Recorded by Satellite Measurements

    Study: Human Activity Has Turned Tropical Rainforests from Carbon Sinks into Sources


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