Payng for Big Stormstags: climate change, Katrina, Hurricane, Harvey, Sandy
Paying for Big Storms
Hurricane Katrina cost our country, our people, over $100 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost $75 billion. Hurricane Harvey will also be in that range, and may become the most expensive storm in American history. Each one of those storms cost the US more than any storm before.
Between 1980 and 2012 there were 5 storms a year that did $1 billion in damage in the US. From 2013 to 2016, the average was a bit more than 10. Through 8 months this year, there have already been 10. Ten of the 11 costliest Atlantic hurricanes have occurred since 2004. Smaller storms are also becoming much more frequent. Compared to the average for 1900-1960, there were 20% more “heavy precipitation events” in the 1980s, 35% more in the 1990s, and 40% more in the 2000s.
Lives, livelihoods, possessions and homes have been lost. One million housing units were damaged or destroyed by Katrina, 650,000 by Sandy, and at least 100,000 by Harvey. Harvey destroyed about a half a million cars. Most of these losses are not covered by insurance. Standard homeowners policies do not cover damage from rain or flood waters.
You don’t have to be listening very carefully or paying much attention to know that something is changing. Climate scientists have been saying for years that warming will probably mean more and bigger storms. The “probably” is important: they are not as sure as about the fact of warming itself, but the evidence points strongly in that direction. In the case of Harvey, warming has raised sea levels (meaning higher storm surges) and raised air temperature (meaning more water in the air and more rain).
Harvey washed away whole neighborhoods. It is also pushing aside the curtain on the politics of storms. As the costs of big storms have risen sharply, Republicans have been trying to cut federal funds for disaster relief. After Katrina and Sandy, Republicans in Congress were reluctant to send aid to New Orleans and New York. In both cases, they insisted that any new funds for relief be offset by cuts in programs they don’t like, such as Amtrak funding and Medicare. Texas Senators and Representatives opposed legislation to provide relief after Hurricane Sandy, as did current White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, then a Representative from South Carolina, and Paul Ryan, delaying relief funding for months.
Republican leaders in the House have now proposed a budget that cuts FEMA disaster funds by $876 million. This amount is instead intended to begin building Trump’s wall. Trump’s own budget blueprint calls for cuts of $667 million, mostly from the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, which spends money now to reduce future expenditures. His budget eliminates the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides affordable flood insurance that private insurers won’t offer.
Trump’s proposed budget makes big cuts to research about the climate changes which are connected to these increasingly big and expensive storms. Budget director Mulvaney said, “We’re not spending money on that any more. We consider that to be a waste of your money.”
In their broad attack on all kinds of “regulations”, the Trump administration just eliminated an Obama-era regulation that required federally funded housing rebuilt after disasters to be able to withstand these critical flood events. For an additional 1% in building costs, many times that would be saved in the future.
At the state level, Republican ideology also makes disaster recovery more difficult for the most vulnerable Americans. A new law passed by Texas Republicans makes it easier for insurance companies to avoid paying off on their policies and harder for homeowners to get paid.
Those are the facts. Not fake: everything above can be found in hundreds of places. Not really news: mostly old stories or back page reports.
Only an ideologically immovable force like the current Republican Party could ignore the mounting crises caused by our changing weather systems. In their rigid insistence that big government is America’s biggest problem, Republicans consistently ignore the human costs of the crises, where only big government can provide solutions. In their refusal to acknowledge the basic facts of climate change, Republicans in Congress and the White House put Americans at risk of losing everything.
Right now, Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz, who didn’t want to pay for the damage done by Sandy, are rushing to promise money for Texans. Let’s see whether they also acknowledge that increasing weather crises are the greatest danger to American life.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 5, 2017
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