Disaster In Houston Exacerbated By GOP Policies

The disaster on the Gulf Coast continues with not only the massive flooding in and around Houston but now, as the storm moves east, Beaumont and New Orleans are starting to also see massive amounts of rainfall. There are now reports that one of the two main reservoirs built in the 1930s to protect Houston proper is now overflowing its spillway, threatening the city with yet another deluge of water. In addition, the rivers and creeks throughout South Texas will probably not even crest until tomorrow or even Thursday. As of now, the death toll has thankfully been remarkably low but we can probably expect it to unfortunately rise as the storm recedes and the recovery effort expands. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the storm’s path.

While it is true that there was bound to be massive flooding with this unprecedented amount of rainfall, it is also clear that Republican policies and positions over the years have probably greatly exacerbated this disaster. First and foremost among those positions is the refusal to recognize the reality of global warming and climate change. No one storm can be directly linked to global warming but all the models show that massive rainfall events like this are more and more likely as the climate heats up. The challenge of man-made climate change has been front and center for the last two decades and the GOP response has not only been to ignore and denigrate the science but, even worse, actually propose and enact policies that create even more damage, the latest and most obvious being Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Aiding and abetting this Republican position, or perhaps even directing it via political donations, is the power and money of the fossil fuel industry, as illustrated by the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil. Internal documents show that Exxon was well aware of the damage the fossil fuel industry was doing to the climate, but Exxon publicly and purposefully lied about the effects of carbon pollution on the climate. And the pro-business, anti-regulation Republican party was happy to play along with them.

In addition, the refusal to acknowledge a role for government and invest in the country’s infrastructure, combined with the decision of Republicans in Congress to oppose anything and everything President Obama tried to accomplish has added to Houston’s problems. The upgrade to the Brays Bayou is nearly a decade behind schedule simply because Republicans in Congress have not provided the money to complete the project. As of 2016, the project was still not expected to be completed until 2021.

But it is actually local Republican-controlled Texas politics, with its laissez-faire attitude and lack of regulation, that has really exacerbated the continual flooding in Houston over the last few years. The city’s total lack of zoning as well as its allowance of development in the flood plains and wetlands have eliminated much of the city’s natural defenses. Since 2010, over 7,000 new homes have been built in the flood plain. This despite the fact that Houston, along with New Orleans, were identified all the way back in 1998 as the two areas of the country with the most repetitively flooded buildings. In fact, a study showed that just 2% of properties were responsible for over 40% of the claims on the National Flood Insurance Program. One Houston property worth only $115,000 produced over $800,000 in payouts after being flooded 16 times in 18 years.

The city has developed over 166,000 acres of coastal plain that held highly absorbent grasses since the beginning of this century. Nearly one-third of the wetlands in an around the city have been developed and destroyed since the early 1990s. Even worse, this unchecked development has depleted the groundwater reserves and, like New Orleans, is actually causing parts of the city to sink. According to US Geological Survey, areas of Houston have sunk by over 10 feet since the 1920s. Northwest Harris County has subsided nearly four feet since 1974 and is expected to sink another foot or so by 2030. All of this is driven by the fact that the rampant, unchecked development in the Houston area sucks around 14 billion gallons a year from the underground aquifer and has drained it by 300 to 400 feet. Accordingly, the ground above will contract and sink which will of course make it more prone to flooding.

In a disaster like the one unfolding on the Gulf Coast, we all pitch in as Americans. That can be seen by the enormous efforts of individuals who have essentially become rescue services as well as all the volunteers doing their best to aid and comfort the thousands who have been displaced. But let’s not forget that there are some critical partisan policies and positions of the Republican party that have only made this disaster worse.

Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on August 29, 2017.

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