Monday, January 25, 2016

When money isn't enough


This past week, I attended the NCSE conference in Washington DC.  This year's theme focused on the "Energy-Water-Food Nexus."  The Nexus is a focused effort on a specific aspect of resilience, sustainability, systems analysis or whatever the buzz word was before that.  

At the heart of society is food, energy, and water and if one system crumbles then the larger system collapses.  One man in the audience, pointed out that food, energy, water leaves out air which of course is integral to society.  But air, doesn't have a whole lot of infrastructure and the focus seemed to be on necessary systems that also have infrastructure.  

In any case, one of the keynote speakers, argued that the Chinese government has been more encouraging to environmental litigation.  I have no idea what is really meant by more encouraging or if it is necessarily interesting that China is doing this.  However, his point was that China encourages environmental protection through civil and criminal tort (presumably, rather than government implementing policy?).  

Processes of delivering goods and services to society that do not challenge society's (and other critters) dependence of clean air and clean water are desirable.  To the extent that the former cannot occur without sacrificing the latter, than perhaps a better debate is how badly we really the goods and services that challenge our safety.  

Of course, the age old question is how safe is safe enough?  Safety levels are negotiated and this is in part, why we have "environmental justice" issues, which I never thought were much different than any other policy decision demonstrating who has political power and who clearly does not.  

The environmental justice label may even belittle a broader issue of exclusion from democratic processes of decision making.

In any case, people can not breath, drink or eat their class action lawsuit payout.  Payouts tend to run out anyway- especially with high medical bills.  Nor does money buy back much of anything that is lost when people and environments are harmed, namely our innocence in pursuing goods and services to the sacrifice of other people and beings. 

I don't think that lawsuits (in American, China, or otherwise) is an appropriate means to encourage valuing the health and well being of people and the environment.  

It's a tool- fair enough.  But the issue arising in society about environmental atrocities such as, the BP oil spill or the EPA spill into the Animas river , are  not really about how much the cost ought to be but attempts to come to terms with society's pursuit of some values (money, power, comfort, etc) to the sacrifice of others (health, well being, respect).      

All this to say, I found the song above, Keep the Wolves Away, by Uncle Lucious  to be very powerful. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Coastal Barrier Resource Act


It is the new year- an event often marked by resolutions.

Similar is the development of coastal areas.  Many think we shouldn't for one reason or another.  Many others think it feels good and there is money to be made.  Thus, we regularly build and regularly resolve to limit or refrain from building again.

A 2005 academic journal article sought to better understand the failures of the Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA).  The author, David Salvesen, argued while the CBRA intended to limit development in specified areas, development continued because state and local government enabled it to through activities such as, infrastructure development and land management variations.

Too often, I think, the role of land management policy and those charged with upholding it are overlooked in meeting national development goals.

Because the act restricts the availability of federal aid to developments in CBRA zones,  Salvensen suggests the CBRA success is in limiting public exposure to development risk.

The act is often discussed as a means of controlling disaster losses.  While this is one intent of the act, its most substantial objective is preservation of the environment.  This is seen in the Congressional Findings and Purpose and implementing of the act by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
(a) The Congress finds that— 
(1) coastal barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and along the shore areas of the Great Lakes of the United States and the adjacent wetlands, marshes, estuaries, inlets and nearshore waters provide— 
     (A) habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife; and
     (B) habitats which are essential spawning, nursery, nesting, and feeding areas for commercially and recreationally important species of finfish and shellfish, as well as other aquatic organisms such as sea turtles; 
(2) coastal barriers contain resources of extraordinary scenic, scientific, recreational, natural, historic, archeological, cultural, and economic importance; which are being irretrievably damaged and lost due to development on, among, and adjacent to, such barriers; 
(3) coastal barriers serve as natural storm protective buffers and are generally unsuitable for development because they are vulnerable to hurricane and other storm damage and because natural shoreline recession and the movement of unstable sediments undermine manmade structures; 
(4) certain actions and programs of the Federal Government have subsidized and permitted development on coastal barriers and the result has been the loss of barrier resources, threats to human life, health, and property, and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year; and 
(5) a program of coordinated action by Federal, State, and local governments is critical to the more appropriate use and conservation of coastal barriers. 
(b) The Congress declares that it is the purpose of this chapter to minimize the loss of human life, wasteful expenditure of Federal revenues, and the damage to fish, wildlife, and other natural resources associated with the coastal barriers along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and along the shore areas of the Great Lakes by restricting future Federal expenditures and financial assistance which have the effect of encouraging development of coastal barriers, by establishing the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System, and by considering the means and measures by which the long-term conservation of these fish, wildlife, and other natural resources may be achieved.
The 1970s was a relative lull in hurricane landfalls.  As well, it was a time of great national economic difficulty.  The 1980's saw an abrupt turn towards Reagan era austerity and environmentalists angry with Reagan's approach towards EPA regulations.

Hence, in signing the Act in 1982, Reagan stated,
This legislation will enhance both wise natural resource conservation and fiscal responsibility. It will save American taxpayers million of dollars while, at the same time, taking a major step forward in the conservation of our magnificent coastal resources.
This matters because if CBRA is ultimately considered an environmental conservation policy rather than a wise-use/ land management policy (or something else more overarching or less special interest-y) then, development interests will likely win out over any restriction intended by the act.

Salvesen's article argued that the CBRA was not an outright failure.  It does limit development but not as much as one may have hoped.  Not only does success depend on the state and local government's willingness to stick to the rules, but the Act does not restrict those that can develop on their own dime to move into the area.

Perhaps then, the policy is a success.  It limited development to those that could afford to maintain their desired beach lifestyle.  Because these are few relative to the general public, it also protect the natural resources.