Coastal Red States Apply For Millions in Adaptation Funding With No Mention of Climate Change

Houston submerged after Hurricane Harvey in 2017              Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Billions of dollars of disaster preparedness funding are up for grabs from the Trump Administration, but to improve their odds of getting some of it, states are going out of their way NOT to mention climate change, according to The New York Times.  Because studies have shown that a dollar of prevention saves $6 in post-disaster assistance, in 2018 Congress passed the Disaster Reform Act, which drastically increased funding to prepare for disasters.

Why This Matters:  Climate denials — explicit or implicit — don’t make its impacts or the need to adapt any less real. Politically conservative and ecologically vulnerable states like Texas are engaging in what the Times describes as “linguistic acrobatics” in detailed proposals about how they will use the federal funds — apparently they believe the “prophets of doom” even though they can’t say so.  Politics already skews eligibility — according to the Times, the funds are to be doled out according to a formula based on which states were most affected by disasters in 2015, 2016 and 2017, which just so happens to favor “red” states along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts that were hit particularly hard during that period.  Did the President say something about draining the swamp?

Who Gives Out the Money?

This is the first time disaster funding will be given out prior to the disaster itself — and the program is overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  When HUD put out the rules governing funding applications last summer, it didn’t use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” but referred to “changing environmental conditions.”  And so the states followed suit — Texas, South Carolina, and Louisiana basically avoid the words climate change in their proposals, while Florida and North Carolina did not.  The Times concluded that even though “officials from both political parties are increasingly forced to confront the effects of climate change, including worsening floods, more powerful storms, and greater economic damage, many remain reluctant to talk about the cause.”

Which States Win?

According to The Times, under the formula, these “red” states stand to do well:

  • Texas could get more than $4 billion, the most of any state;
  • The next largest state, Louisiana, could get up to $1.2 billion;
  • Florida could receive up to $633 million;
  • North Carolina may get up to $168 million; and
  • South Carolina could take in up to $158 million.

Critics see this as more harmful than just a bit of wordsmithing.   “We really need every single state, local and federal official to speak clearly,” Shana Udvardy of the Union of Concerned Scientists said. “The polls indicate that the majority of Americans understand that climate change is happening here and now.”  And the highest-ranking government official in Houston’s Harris County put it this way, “Harris County is Exhibit A for how the climate crisis is impacting the daily lives of residents in Texas. 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.”

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