Resourceful environmental leaders have unearthed opportunity amidst the wreckage left behind by this year’s record hurricane season and the battering of the Gulf Coast. They’ve crafted plans for everything from the building of new, green, affordable housing to the tightening of auto fuel-economy standards.
Of course, powerful people with less eco-friendly agendas have seen opportunity too. In their eyes, the devastating storms were not-so-green lights to fast-track brown legislation.
Such efforts to exploit the hurricanes for different political ends will no doubt continue as the process of rebuilding New Orleans and other devastated communities stretches over years or decades.
Here we examine 17 proposals — both pro- and anti-environment — that flooded in soon after Katrina and Rita, and offer predictions for their success.
Healthy Homes, Smart Neighborhoods
Purpose: Mobilize a response team to help build 10,000 green, affordable homes, construct several model green schools, and create a green-building resource and design center in the gulf region.
Initiated by: Global Green USA
Status: The group is asking for donations, but posts no progress updates on its website. With eco-stars like Leo DiCaprio on the “honorary” task force, it’s clear the celeb-friendly organization has Hollywood heft, but will it be able to do the heavy lifting.
Stricter CAFE standards
Purpose: Increase fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks to 33 mpg in the next decade.
Initiated by: Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.)
Status: The House Rules Committee blocked an attempt to include tighter CAFE rules in the Gasoline for America’s Security (GAS) Act that passed the House in early October. A stand-alone, bipartisan bill on the issue seems to be going nowhere fast.
Solar City, U.S.A.
Purpose: Incorporate solar technology into the rebuilding of New Orleans, in order to create “the nation’s largest, most sustainable solar city.”
Initiated by: John F. Wasik, Bloomberg News writer and author of the upcoming book The Merchant of Power
Status: Wasik says the technology exists to make his plan feasible, and certainly it would help boost the American solar-power industry, but a quick reality check (Louisiana ain’t got much in the way of tax incentives for photovoltaics) suggests the solar city may remain little more than a bright idea.
Purpose: Create a Roosevelt-style Civilian Conservation Corps, employing gulf residents in environmentally friendly rebuilding efforts and other projects.
Initiated by: Campaign for America’s Future and NAACP Chair Julian Bond
Status: CAF initiated an online letter-writing campaign to generate support for the idea, but it’s now gone dormant. ‘Nuff said.
Purpose: Encourage hurricane relief efforts promoting green reconstruction plans as well as environmental and social justice.
Initiated by: Healthy Building Network
Status: HBN prez Bill Walsh has shared project goals with the Congressional Black Caucus, and the website is now up and running. As evidenced by the event listings, this project is well off the ground, focusing on local planning charrettes.
Reuse hurricane detritus
Purpose: Establish centers for cost-effective recovery, reuse, and recycling of materials for rebuilding the gulf region.
Initiated by: Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps, and others
Status: Habitat ReStores already exist at various sites in the gulf region. Other reuse efforts are in the works. Though we wouldn’t want to be the ones digging around for salvageable shingles, these projects have definite potential.
Purpose: Gather local planning experts and elected officials for a week of workshops focused on rebuilding 11 cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Initiated by: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who enlisted the help of the Congress for the New Urbanism
Status: Dubbed the Mississippi “Mega-Charrette,” the forum hosted some 230 professionals who brainstormed about sustainable rebuilding strategies from Oct. 11 to 18. A comprehensive plan was produced; we’re holding our breath for full follow-through.
Rebuilding discussion at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo
Purpose: Bring together reps from the U.S. Green Building Council, Habitat for Humanity, Trust for Public Land, and other groups to share ideas on Gulf Coast reconstruction with regional experts and government leaders.
Initiated by: USGBC
Status: A number of rebuilding forums are being held as part of the conference this week in Atlanta. All the brilliant ideas generated will be compiled into one document, sure to be a “must-read.”
Sticking up for environmental rules
Purpose: Call for the preservation of existing health and environmental laws in the aftermath of Katrina, even as some politicians maneuver for their waiver.
Initiated by: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.)
Status: Introduced at the end of September and cosponsored by a whole mess of other senators and reps, the Public Health and Environmental Equality Act nonetheless looks unlikely to be enacted.
Purpose: Encourage refinery construction, speed the refinery permitting and legal process, and weaken some sections of the Clean Air Act.
Initiated by: Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee
Status: Though the House passed GAS (ew!) on Oct. 7, after a shameful 45 minutes of bribing and arm-twisting, the Senate is less likely to do the same.
Purpose: Authorize temporary waiver of safety regulations for hurricane-related transport of hazardous materials.
Initiated by: Bush administration
Status: The waiver is in place through the end of the year in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Also, those awkward elbow pads for rollerbladers? Strictly optional.
No refuge for Arctic Refuge
Purpose: Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling
Initiated by: A gaggle of congressional Republicans have been pushing this for years, but the loudest boosters post-Katrina have included Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).
Status: Though the Senate, by a narrow vote, kept refuge-drilling language in a (non-filibusterable) budget reconciliation bill, 25 moderate Republicans got it removed from the House version. Still, the fat lady definitely hasn’t sung yet on this one.
Purpose: Allow states to waive the federal moratorium on drilling off their coasts and receive half the royalties from resultant leasing and production.
Initiated by: Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chair of the House Resources Committee
Status: Under pressure from moderate Republicans and ticked-off Floridians, the House dropped this provision from the budget reconciliation bill on Nov. 9. But watch for it to reemerge in another form. And, sadly for the sea stars, the White House could use administrative powers to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico without approval from Congress.
Purpose: Streamline regulatory process for refineries to encourage new construction or expansion of facilities.
Initiated by: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Environment Committee
Status: On Oct. 26, Inhofe failed to get the bill through his committee, so it’s going nowhere at the moment.
Waive of nausea
Purpose: Give U.S. EPA administrator authority to waive any law or regulation affecting EPA projects related to Katrina recovery for up to 18 months.
Initiated by: Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and David Vitter (R-La.)
Status: Introduced mid-September, the bill is now sitting in the Senate Environment Committee. It could have wide-ranging consequences, but the longer it languishes in committee, the less likely its chances of success.
Lake Pontchartrain dumping
Purpose: Permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dump tainted and toxic floodwaters freely into Lake Pontchartrain, home to manatees and other water critters.
Initiated by: U.S. EPA
Status: The EPA approved the waiver in early September, and the dumping followed soon after. For the time being, the lake’s outlook is fairly … murky.