A quick reminder: This is the last edition for free subscribers this month as I take a brief vacation. Members get an edition in the last week of August - support the newsletter by becoming a paid member here.
This week we’re looking at two big movements: one in climate adaptation and one in the effort to move to a less polluting energy system.
(Flooding on main street in Montpelier, Vermont, July 11, 2023 by the Vermont National Guard on Flickr)
Do you have flood insurance? If so, it's likely your home is in something called a special flood hazard area, the U.S.'s official designation of places at especially high risk for flooding.
But if you're outside these areas, it doesn't mean you're out of the woods when it comes to potentially catastrophic flooding. When torrential rains hit Vermont last month, some residents who were thought their homes were far enough from danger found themselves literally underwater.
As heavy rain drenched Barre, Vermont, last month, Kim Beinin was watching Thor with her two young children. About halfway through the movie, she peeked out the window and was startled to see water flowing over the road and into her neighbor’s driveway. Knowing her home was surely next, she gathered her children and fled.
When the rain stopped two days later, she returned to find her basement submerged in 5 feet of water. The heating oil tank lay on its side, the water heater was flooded, and the electrical panel had cut out, leaving the house without power.
This report from Grist is a good explainer on the variety of reasons why many experts in disaster planning say FEMA's official flood risk maps are only "a good place to start." A separate model of flood risk built by the non-profit First Street Foundation (whose work I used in my previous story on LNG terminals in coastal Louisiana) found the official FEMA designation likely undercounted homes at high risk for flooding by six million. Some of those have already been hit:
People in FEMA’s blindspots are pummeled at an alarming rate. After Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas in 2017, the Harris County Flood Control District, which includes the city of Houston, found that half of the 204,000 homes that flooded were outside the federal hazard zone. According to FEMA, 40 percent of claims made through its National Flood Insurance Program come from people beyond the 100-year floodplain.
FEMA is the process of updating its maps to include the effects of sea level rise, but that won't solve other shortcomings in terms of communicating (and insuring) potential flood risks, including updating older maps, accounting more for river-based flooding and overall limitations of current ways to project where, when and how places will flood, especially as climate change supercharges rainfall in some areas.
In the meantime, you can check your address at RiskFactor.com, a website that uses First Street model to assess risk for flooding and other climate-super charged impacts.
When it comes to the future of gas, one of the biggest players has been the American Gas Association, a trade group that's lobbied aggressively on keeping and expanding gas use in American homes and businesses. You may remember the AGA from their involvement in passing state laws to stop local gas bans, funding astroturf groups or trying to make gas social media influencers happen. It's members — the companies that fund their work with annual fees — include many utility companies that provide gas service.
Well, one fewer now:
New England's largest energy utility, Eversource, has parted ways with the American Gas Association — a powerful industry group that environmentalists say has been instrumental in blocking efforts to address climate change around the country.
Eversource spokesperson Chris McKinnon told WBUR that the utility canceled its membership with the group in early 2022 as part of a broader, strategic effort to prioritize “decarbonization” and reduce planet-warming emissions.
As far as the AGA goes, this a very notable defection, but it's not a deal breaker for the group. One factor, as Miriam Wasser at WBUR reports, may be outside pressure: Eversource operates solely within New England, where many states are pushing harder, both rhetorically and policy-wise for cutting gas out of the energy system. The utility says it is now putting it's AGA money into different groups — including those promoting heat pumps and hydrogen. Eversource is also still part of the pro-gas Energy Solutions Center, which counts many utility companies as members, and as WBUR notes, it’s not exactly abandoning its own gas business.
But even Eversource's cautious statements about the move indicates that the utility has decided AGA membership — for whatever reason — isn’t worth it anymore.
Coalition and trade groups’ involvement in blocking certain climate policies had led to a growing state-led effort to prevent utilities from using ratepayer money to fund their memberships in these organizations. While utilities are already technically blocked from using money collected from your monthly bill for political activities, there are plenty of loopholes and programs in grey areas (lobbying on state rules, not legislation, trade groups, funding studies and even school pamphlets about gas, “your invisible friend” ) Recently, Connecticut, Colorado and Maine have all passed laws expanding what activities utilities must pay for themselves. It’s not that Eversource or other utilities can’t lobby now — it just has to do it out of its own money.
Related, from the folks at Floodlight The U.S.’s largest electric utility trade group opposes Biden administration efforts to gas power plants cleaner.
The Washington Post crunches the math on which road trips are cheaper to fill up on gas or electricity, and why you might see different calculations from different sources
Want a solar panel on your roof? San Diego will now give you the instant green light
“To be blunt about it, the people most impacted by heat are not the kind of voting demographic that gets any politician nervous.”
Unsurprisingly, Rhode Island’s electric bike and vehicle rebate program was wildly popular — so much so that the state has decided to cut back, for now.
What all-electric housing developments look like in Colorado
Is Louisiana’s LNG boom slowing down?
“While he may be the first person I have interviewed to succumb to extreme heat, he almost certainly will not be the last.”