climate change

Republican-led States Want Disaster Aid Without Having to Address Climate Change

A fuel pump in Houston, Texas, on August 2017. Hurricane Harvey caused the region around $125 billion in damage. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As applications come in to access $16 billion in Department of Housing and Urban Development funding designed to protect vulnerable areas from “predictable damage from future events,” a pattern is forming among many conservative states. According to a report from the New York Times, southern states battered by natural disasters are putting in for the HUD money, but leaving out phrases related to climate change in order to stay on the Trump administration’s good side:

A 306-page draft proposal from Texas doesn’t use the terms “climate change” or “global warming,” nor does South Carolina’s proposal. Instead, Texas refers to “changing coastal conditions” and South Carolina talks about the “destabilizing effects and unpredictability” of being hit by three major storms in four years, while being barely missed by three other hurricanes….

The money is distributed according to a formula benefiting states most affected by disasters in 2015, 2016 and 2017. That formula favors Republican-leaning states along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, which were hit particularly hard during that period.

Texas is in line for more than $4 billion, the most of any state. The next largest sums go to Louisiana ($1.2 billion), Florida ($633 million), North Carolina ($168 million) and South Carolina ($158 million), all of which voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election.

“HUD is requiring them to be explicit about everything other than the concept that climate change is responsible,” said Marion McFadden, the former HUD head of disaster-recovery grants. She added that emphasizing language related to climate change may increase the risk “that they may walk away.” When HUD released the rules determining allocation for the program, it avoided the phrases “climate change” and global warming,” preferring “changing environmental conditions,” an anodyne term that does not attribute cause for the crisis to energy companies headquartered in gulf states like Texas and Louisiana.

Whether or not gulf-state governments choose to acknowledge climate change as they bid for funding designed to limit its effects, the region is expected to bear the brunt of rising sea levels and other consequences of global warming. The southeast, together with the midwest, are the two regions most likely to face the greatest economic impacts of a warmer America; some counties in states with already-hot climates like Texas could suffer GDP losses of up to 20 percent if emissions hold steady. States below the Mason-Dixon will suffer more heat wave-related deaths, while South Florida could face more disease due to the expansion of year-round mosquito activity. Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana are already suffering from substantial sea-level rise in low-lying coast areas: In Charleston, South Carolina, a federal study from 2018 determined that record flooding in the state’s largest city “is directly tied to sea-level rise.” As seas continue to rise, coastal and inland flooding caused by storm surges will increase, as will rain dropped by hurricanes.

Politicians in the region aren’t in full denial. “Harris County is Exhibit A for how the climate crisis is impacting the daily lives of residents in Texas,” said Democrat Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which includes Houston, which is still dealing with the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “If we’re serious about breaking the cycle of flooding and recovery we have to shift the paradigm on how we do things, and that means putting science above politics.” And as the Times notes: “Florida’s proposal calls [climate change] ‘a key overarching challenge,’ while North Carolina pledges to anticipate ‘how a changing climate, extreme events, ecological degradation and their cascading effects’ will affect state residents. That a big step for Florida under the new governor, Ron DeSantis: Under the administration of Rick Scott, state officials weren’t even allowed to use the phrase “climate change.”

Though the formula for the aid appears to benefit GOP-controlled states in the south, half of the program’s funds were intended for Puerto Rico. On the island on Saturday, a video posted on Facebook showed a 43,000-square-foot warehouse stocked with supplies, as thousands prepare to spend a third week sleeping outside in the wake of dozens of small earthquakes that have struck over the last month; three cabinet members have already been dismissed by Governor Wanda Vázquez. “This is an act of pure evil, to hold back supplies,” 21-year-old Orlando Rivera, of Toa Alta, told the Times. “It’s like watching someone dying in front of you and not helping them.”

GOP-led States Accept Disaster Aid, But Not Climate Change