Puerto Rico blackout shows need for environmental justice

  • Published on April 20th, 2018

The power outage in Puerto Rico is on track to become the second largest blackout in world history, surpassed only by the outage from Hurricane Haiyan. As climate change worsens and sea levels rise, we can expect more damage from hurricanes, as higherstorm surge reaches much further inland. And climate change is already contributing to increased hurricane activity in the North Atlantic since the 1970s, according to the US National Climate Assessment.

NOAA hurricaneBy Climate Denier Roundup

The Puerto Rico blackout is also a prime example of how, despite deniers’ fears of the cost to combat climate change, inaction is far more expensive than addressing it. The price tag to rebuild the PR grid is bigger than the alternative plan to include renewable energy, storage, and microgrids for resilience.

It’s also yet another example of environmental injustice. Because as Politico’s David Viknik exposed last month, the Trump administration’s response to Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida was  much quicker and more robust than Maria in Puerto Rico. Among plenty of other concerning figures, just nine days after Harvey, FEMA had paid out over $140 million to Texans, whereas nine days after Maria they had distributed a paltry $6 million.

That report from not-even-a-month-ago isn’t even the latest example of how communities of color are treated vastly different than wealthy white communities. On Tuesday, Megan Jula of MotherJones reported that after an affluent white community resisted a fracking site near their school, the company decided to move its drill site. Its internal analysis, according to Jula, was that the proximity to the school meant the site was “not preferable.”

So it selected a new site, one that was actually closer to a school. But this school is in a Hispanic community, so instead of drilling near a site that’s 77% white kids, they’ll be risking the health and well-being of a school that’s 82% hispanic.

The location is technically legal- fracking operations are required to be 500 feet from homes, and 1,000 feet from schools. This site is 509 feet from a home and 1,360 feet from the school. Which is totally reasonable and not at all something that families should complain about.

Fortunately the Sierra Club, NAACP and other environmental groups care more about these kids than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) who approved the fracking application. They’ve filed a lawsuit, arguing that COGCC failed to address public concerns and that because the school’s playground and fields are within 1,000 feet of the fracking rig, it’s illegal.

These examples show how wrong deniers are when they claim hurricanes and climate change are no big deal and shouldn’t be talked about, or that fossil fuels are good for us and should be welcomed into our lives with open arms. But because these risks are felt more deeply by communities of color than the old affluent white demographic of denial, odds are slim they’ll care.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)

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