By Michele L. Jawando, Esq.
Vice President Legal Progress, Center for American Progress
This week marks the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. For many residents of the Gulf Coast, August 29, 2005 was a nightmare. Katrina swept through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, devastating the cities and communities of New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile and all points in between. Many were left to watch the homes, businesses and communities they had worked so hard to build wash away in a single day. The effects of Katrina were especially severe for predominately African-American communities, with under-resourced communities along the Gulf suffering the biggest losses. In fact, according to reports published by the Congressional Research Service, African Americans are estimated to have accounted for approximately 44 percent of the storm victims. Subsequent studies of Katrina and the connections between climate change and extreme weather events warned us that our inaction on issues of climate change would only yield more of the same. Yet we have kept our blinders on while more hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, and floods have ravaged our nation, and disproportionally devastated communities of color.
Last year, the United States experienced ten extreme weather and climate disaster related events that caused more than $1 billion in damages each. Combined, these disasters resulted in 150 total deaths just last year alone. Baton Rouge, Louisiana – less than two hours north of New Orleans – is the latest victim of extreme weather spurred by climate change. In just a few short days, torrential rains bombarded a community once thought to be immune to such floods. One of the tragic footnotes of the story of the Baton Rouge disaster is the fact that after Katrina, many families resettled in Baton Rouge, only to be met again with additional loss and tragedy almost a decade later.
According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment (NCA), the intensity, frequency and duration of hurricanes and other storms have all increased since the 1980s. Unfortunately, peak hurricane season will continue now through October. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicts this year will likely be the worst since 2012.
While we cannot control Mother Nature, we can control our actions on the environment by taking steps to reduce the pollution driving climate change. One step we can take must be to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and encourages investments in clean, renewable energy. Think of it as insurance, providing protection for our property and most importantly our families by reducing the dangerous emissions that contribute to weather events like floods and hurricanes.
Religious and community leaders, along with corporations like Google, Xerox, Apple and Johnson and Johnson, joined together in support of the Clean Power Plan, signing a White House pledge committing their efforts to curb climate change by reducing carbon pollution and increasing renewable energy generation. They understand this plan will provide up to $54 billion in climate and health benefits per year and save our businesses upwards of $1 billion while at the same time being the socially conscious thing to do for our communities.
Despite the obvious benefits of the Clean Power Plan, many remain opposed. Polluters and their political allies have sued to block the Plan with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In briefs to the court, they made a number of unsubstantiated claims of harm while completely ignoring the standards’ strong legal foundation in the Clean Air Act, one of America’s bedrock environmental laws used to protect Americans and make our communities safe and whole.
On April 1, 2016, a broad coalition of Americans joined together to file ‘friend of the court’ briefs defending the Clean Power Plan, citing the tremendous health and economic benefits it will produce. As the court prepares to hear this case next month, it is crucial for those of us who care about the future, the health, and the longevity of our communities as well as our environment to let our voices be heard in support of climate action.
Scientists assure us that we will see an increase in frequency of severe weather activity in our country that will lead to greater disaster, tragedy and death. We’ve already lived through the nightmares of Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and Baton Rouge flood. It’s time to take action on climate change to ensure brighter days for all our children and beyond.