Floridians stunned by Citizens Insurance ‘depopulation’ letters

South Florida Sun Sentinel

Floridians stunned by Citizens Insurance ‘depopulation’ letters

Ron Hurtibise – September 25, 2023

Tens of thousands of customers of Florida’s state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp. are getting a stunning surprise in their mailboxes.

It’s a letter from Citizens’ “Depopulation Unit” stating their policies have been assumed by a private-market company.

Cause for celebration? Not if the private company’s estimated annual premium is higher than what the policyholder is paying Citizens.

Delores Smerkers, a Davie retiree, said her Citizens policy renewed in July for $5,523 — $650 more that what she paid last year. Less than two months later, in late August, she received a letter saying her coverage was being assumed by Safepoint Insurance Co.

The letter stated that her estimated cost to renew her Safepoint policy will be $6,650 — an increase of $1,127.

That’s a substantial price hike, but because it’s less than 20% above her Citizens premium, she is ineligible to reject the offer and stay with Citizens.

Smerkers says she doesn’t know how many more insurance price hikes she and her disabled husband can endure as they try to live out the remainder of their lives in the modest 1,750-square-foot villa they bought new in 1978.

“It’s a shame,” she said. “People on fixed incomes are hurting the most. We’re not rich. We worked like dogs all our lives. Now look at where we are at.”

More than 300,000 Citizens policyholders are getting letters stating that their policies have been selected for removal in October by one or more of five private-market companies.

Targeted policyholders are ineligible to remain with Citizens if their letter identifies a private company’s “estimated renewal premium” that’s less than 20% over Citizens’ estimated renewal premium for comparable coverage.

But if all estimated renewal premiums exceed 20% of Citizens’, the policyholder can opt to remain with Citizens by logging onto the company’s website or asking their insurance agent to make the selection for them.

Removal is automatic for those who don’t take action

October marks the first of two depopulation efforts. Another is scheduled in November.

Five companies have been approved to take 184,000 policies from Citizens in October: Florida Peninsula (up to 19,000 policies), Monarch (10,000), Safepoint (30,000), Slide (100,000) and Southern Oak (25,000).

Letters sent to selected policyholders state that the transfer will take place on Oct. 17 unless the policyholder selects another option by Oct. 5. But the Oct. 5 deadline was moved to Oct. 10 after a vendor handling the mail-outs fell behind, leaving some recipients with only a couple weeks to act.

Of 311,250 policyholders informed that they’ve been selected for takeout in October, 99,500 have so far elected to remain with Citizens, according to data provided by Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier. Just 9% — 28,750 — have selected a private company. And the majority, 183,000, have not yet registered a selection.

Anyone who fails to make a selection will automatically be transferred on Oct. 17 to the private company identified in their letter with the lowest premium, Peltier said.

Targeted policyholders don’t have to pay more now

Some policyholders who have received a depopulation letter say they were confused about the estimated renewal premiums identified in the letter.

The premiums are just estimates of the following year’s insurance costs and don’t have to be paid right away. Even if a policyholder accepts the transfer, the coverage remains in place at the current Citizens rate until the policy expires.

In Smerkers’ case, she won’t owe the new $6,650 premium until her Citizens policy is set to expire in July.

Deerfield Beach resident Jeff Torrey said it took a phone call to his agent to clarify that he didn’t owe more money immediately.

He received a letter in mid-September saying Slide was assuming his policy on Oct. 17 and that he was ineligible for Citizens because Slide’s estimated renewal premium was nearly $1,000 more but $185 under the 20% threshold.

“I thought come Oct. 17, I was going to have to pay more,” Tolley said in an interview. The agent told him “the letter is not very clear. It’s confusing.”

In addition, those estimates could change prior to the policy renewal date, and that could change policyholders’ eligibility to remain with Citizens.

Policyholders currently ineligible to remain with Citizens are advised to wait until 90 days before their policies are set to renew with the new company and then look at the difference between the actual renewal rates at that time. If the difference falls below 20%, the policyholder will be eligible to return to Citizens.

Steve Rogosin, a Plantation-based insurance agent, said 55 of his clients have received depopulation letters and of those, only half are currently eligible to remain with Citizens.

“I tell them to carefully read the offer, and then on an individual basis, we help them make their decision,” he said.

Most who remain eligible to stay with Citizens are choosing to do so, he said. Other options are available beyond the private companies identified in the letters, but “they’re not cheaper than Citizens,” he said.

Brian Murphy, co-owner of a Brightway Insurance agency in Palm Beach Gardens, said one of his clients who’s currently paying $4,400 for his Citizens policy received a letter estimating the new company would charge him $8,200 when it comes time to renew his policy.

“So he gets to stay in Citizens,” Murphy said.

New law will make more ineligible to stay in Citizens

The current round isn’t like recent depopulation efforts.

What’s new is the 20% threshold. It’s being used to reduce the number of policies held by the state’s “insurer of last resort.”

Citizens’ board of governors and legislators that oversee the program have become anxious in recent years about the company’s renewed growth. As private-market companies stopped writing policies or were driven to bankruptcy, Citizens’ policy count increased from 420,000 in 2019 to 1.4 million currently.

Such a large number of policies sets off alarm bells, because if a major hurricane wipes out Citizens’ ability to pay claims, the company will have to levy surcharges and assessments to make up the shortfall.

Citizens’ policyholders would first face surcharges of up to 45% of their premiums.

If that’s not enough, a special assessment would be imposed to collect 2% of the cost of every homeowner, auto, specialty and surplus lines policy in the state.

And there’s more. If those two levies don’t generate enough, Citizens has the right to impose on all policies — Citizens and private-market — an emergency assessment of up to 10% for each of Citizens’ three accounts.

Until this year, Citizens customers targeted for removal could opt out for any reason.

And that worked for awhile, as a 10-year stretch without a major hurricane making landfall in Florida enabled some private-market companies to offer rates lower than Citizens.

But over the past five years, the private insurance market has hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars, forcing companies to raise their rates far above Citizens.

Citizens, in turn, was prohibited from keeping pace by raising its rates more than an average 10% each year.

Last year, the state Legislature enacted the 20% threshold and put Citizens on a path to increase rates by increasing the rate cap by a percentage point a year until it reaches 15% in 2026.

More companies signal an improved insurance market

Murphy said his firm has a team of people answering questions from clients about their depopulation letters.

They’ve haven’t heard many complaints, he said, possibly because clients understand that Citizens is “stretched” and has to depopulate.

But he sees the number of companies willing to assume Citizens policies as a good sign that the market is poised to recover.

A big reason companies are reentering the market, experts say, is that reforms enacted by the state Legislature last year remove enticements for repair contractors and plaintiffs attorneys to file lawsuits against insurers.

Removing those enticements reduces potential for losses and should help convince insurers that they’ll again be able to make a profit in the Florida market, they say.

“Other carriers are coming in with some appetite,” Murphy said. “And I believe we’re going to see more in 18 months.”

Meanwhile, depopulation targets who were able to remain in Citizens shouldn’t get too comfortable. They might soon get targeted again.

Agents are gearing up for a fresh round of depopulation offers to start going out in late September.

Six companies, including the four participating in this month’s round, have been approved to remove up to 196,399 Citizens policies on Nov. 21.

According to letters informing policyholders about the Oct. 17 takeouts, “If your policy is not successfully assumed, you may continue receiving future offers from private-market insurance companies interested in removing your policy from Citizens.”

California workers who cut countertops are dying of an incurable disease

Los Angeles Times

California workers who cut countertops are dying of an incurable disease

Emily Alpert Reyes, Cindy Carcamo – September 24, 2023

PACOIMA, CA-SEPTEMBER 8, 2023: Leobardo Segura Meza, 27, who suffers from silicosis, an incurable lung disease that has been afflicting workers who cut and polish engineered stone high in silica, is photographed at his home in Pacoima. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Leobardo Segura Meza, 27, of Pacoima suffers from silicosis, an incurable lung disease that has been afflicting workers who cut and polish engineered stone high in crystalline silica. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Inside the row of workshops in an industrial stretch of Pacoima, men labored over hefty slabs of speckled stone, saws whining over the sounds of Spanish-language rock.

Pale dust rose around them as they worked. Many went without masks. Some had water spurting from their machines, but others had nothing to tamp down the powder rising in the air.

“Nobody uses water,” one man in a Dodgers cap said in Spanish when Maria Cabrera approached, holding flyers about silicosis, an incurable and suffocating disease that has devastated dozens of workers across the state and killed men who have barely reached middle age.

Cabrera, a community outreach worker with the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, urged him and others at the Branford Street site to try to protect themselves. Silicosis can ravage the lungs of workers after they inhale tiny particles of crystalline silica while they cut and grind stone that contains the mineral.

The disease dates back centuries, but researchers say the booming popularity of countertops made of engineered stone, which has much higher concentrations of silica than many kinds of natural stone, has driven a new epidemic of an accelerated form of the suffocating illness. As the dangerous dust builds up and scars the lungs, the disease can leave workers short of breath, weakened and ultimately suffering from lung failure.

“You can get a transplant,” Cabrera told the man in Spanish, “but it won’t last.”

In California, it has begun to debilitate young workers, largely Latino immigrants who cut and polish slabs of engineered stone. Instead of cropping up in people in their 60s or 70s after decades of exposure, it is now afflicting men in their 20s, 30s or 40s, said Dr. Jane Fazio, a pulmonary critical care physician who became alarmed by cases she saw at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. Some California patients have died in their 30s.

“They’re young guys who essentially have a terminal diagnosis,” Fazio said.

Read more: Shape Your L.A. — at the county level

In Pacoima, a 27-year-old father said he now has to hustle home from the park with his 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son because his oxygen tank starts to run out as they play. Leobardo Segura Meza said he could no longer run around on the soccer field or exercise the way he used to.

Nor is he able to work. For a decade, he made a living by cutting, polishing and installing countertops in and around Los Angeles County. Dust was everywhere, he said, and he was given only a dust mask — one he said was inadequate for the job — to protect himself. Sometimes he brought a hose and tried to attach it to the machine to reduce dust, but there were no machines dispensing water as they were cutting, he said.

He began to suffer a cough that wouldn’t go away and lost his breath when going up stairs, he said. His weight dropped. At one point, he was hospitalized when one of his lungs collapsed.

Segura Meza had never heard of silicosis before he was diagnosed. “There’s no cure for this illness. The only thing they can do is a lung transplant,” he said in Spanish.

What he fears, he said, is that as more workers grow ill, “there aren’t enough lungs for us.” At a state hearing this summer, Segura Meza said two of his co-workers had already died waiting for transplants.

To warn workers about the threat, Cabrera and another Pacoima Beautiful outreach worker, Claudia Vasquez, made their rounds at the parking lot of the Home Depot in San Fernando, where laborers in long-sleeve shirts waited for people to drive up and offer them work. Few had heard of the disease.

“It’s very dangerous, this illness?” asked one man in Spanish, leaning against a palm tree in the parking lot.

Cabrera told him there was no cure. She urged him to use wet saws to limit any dangerous dust rising in the air and NIOSH-approved respirators to avoid breathing it in. Workplace safety regulators have recommended a suite of measures including water spraying systems, ventilation and vacuum systems to clear dust, in addition to protective respirators for workers — ones covering the entire face if silica levels in the air are high.

A construction worker sands a kitchen counter.
A construction worker sands a kitchen counter inside a unit of Building 207 that is being refurbished as housing for veterans on the Veteran Affairs West LA campus in Los Angeles on June 23, 2022. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

The risk is serious for workers in the industry: Although estimates of its prevalence vary from study to study, some screenings in Australia have found roughly 1 in 5 stone workers had the disease. In California, workplace safety regulators have estimated that out of roughly 4,000 workers in the industry across the state, silicosis will afflict between 485 and 848 — and that as many as 161 could ultimately die.

A recent study by UCLA and UCSF physicians found that among dozens of California workers who got silicosis from grinding countertops, nearly a fifth had died. Their median age at death was 46. More than half had suffered delays in getting diagnosed, as the disease was mistaken for bacterial pneumonia or tuberculosis, and over a third already had severe scarring in their lungs when they were diagnosed.

Los Angeles County has been an epicenter of the debilitating disease, with 60 out of the 83 cases among countertop workers identified across the state since 2019 by the California Department of Public Health.

The San Fernando Valley is a hub for the stone “fabrication” industry — those who cut and polish the slabs made by manufacturers — and county officials also said that growing awareness spurred by Fazio and others may have resulted in better reporting of such cases in L.A. In July, the state sent out an advisory to healthcare providers about the threat, recommending that physicians ask if ailing patients have worked as countertop cutters and urging them to report any identified cases of silicosis to the state.

California workplace safety regulators are now drafting emergency rules to try to protect workers as engineered stone has come to dominate the countertop industry. The material is also sometimes called artificial or synthetic stone, made with crushed quartz bound together with resin. L.A. County is exploring whether to go further and ban the sale and installation of “silica engineered stone” entirely.

Existing safety standards must be followed, but “we feel that there need to be additional changes to the standards to make it even more safe in the workplace,” said Dr. Nichole Quick, deputy director of health protection with the L.A. County public health department.

The county department is now preparing a report requested by county supervisors on options for a potential ban, as well as other possible steps. It has also partnered with Pacoima Beautiful to provide outreach. “This is a preventable disease,” Quick said, “and we want to take appropriate action to make these workplaces safer.”

One question before the county — and government regulators across the globe — is whether any safeguards will effectively protect workers grinding materials so high in silica. The Agglomerated Stone Manufacturers Assn., an international group representing manufacturers of engineered stone, maintains its products can be cut “with no safety issues or health hazards if it is performed according to the best practices.”

In a statement, the association said the risk lies not with engineered stone itself, but poor adherence to safety measures by fabricators, arguing that safety regulations need to be “simplified and rigorously enforced.” Members of the Stone Coalition, which represents fabricators as well as manufacturers, said an L.A. County ban would have “severe economic consequences” and argued for additional enforcement and training on workplace safety, especially efforts to eliminate “dry cutting.”

And the Los Angeles County Business Federation contended that enforcing safety regulations “will do more to prevent disease, while not adversely [affecting] the cost of construction at a time when Los Angeles is seeing a devastating housing crisis.”

But Raphael Metzger, a Long Beach attorney who represents Segura Meza and other workers suing manufacturers of engineered stone such as Cambria and Caesarstone for damages, argued that typical respirators and other standard measures don’t go far enough. Even with many “wet methods,” workers can be exposed to dangerous levels of silica and need additional protection, NIOSH research has found.

Read more: Tens of thousands of Kaiser healthcare workers approve possible strike

Nearly half of the workers suffering silicosis in the UCLA and UCSF study said their workplaces were using water to control dust. Roughly a quarter said they always had respiratory protection. Fazio said studies have found that in many shops, dust is so thick in the air that respirators cannot filter out a sufficient amount.

Metzger argued that the kind of sophisticated and costly measures that would be needed to reliably protect workers cutting engineered stone are not economically plausible in an industry where immigrant workers typically labor in small shops and are often paid in cash. Engineered stone “is too dangerous to be used safely,” he said. “If there’s any industrial product that should be banned, this is the product.”

Segura Meza agreed, calling it “very deadly.” Vasquez, with Pacoima Beautiful, said that when she and Cabrera started talking to workers about engineered stone and silicosis, many of them asked, “How come they don’t do anything with the stores that sell the products?”

In Australia, where the government is weighing whether to ban engineered stone, a professional group whose members assess worker health hazards concluded that the high concentration of silica in engineered stone makes it difficult for measures such as wet cutting and ventilation to adequately protect workers.

Additional measures for respiratory protection are needed, but such systems “have largely been absent from this sector,” the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists wrote. In light of those concerns, it recommended prohibiting engineered stone containing more than 10% crystalline silica, but said it would also support banning all engineered stone because of the rigorous compliance needed even at a 10% level.

In California, existing rules to protect workers have often not been followed, state regulators found. Cal/OSHA, which is now hustling to draft emergency standards to protect California workers in the stone cutting and polishing industry, found rampant violations of the current standards when it looked closer in 2019 and 2020.

Despite the rise of the deadly disease, homeowners and other consumers shopping for countertops know little about the threat it could pose to the workers behind the surfaces in their kitchens and bathrooms, Fazio said. Engineered stone is now estimated to represent more than 60% of materials used for countertops, the L.A. County business federation said, and market researchers say its popularity is only expected to rise.

Engineered stone “is everywhere and people have no idea,” Fazio said. Consumers “have a right to know that the countertop that might be the cheapest one … may really be costing folks’ lives.”

Pincushion America revisited: The legacy of fracking on our drinking water

Resilience – Food & Water

Pincushion America revisited: The legacy of fracking on our drinking water

Kurt Cobb, orig. pub. by Resource Insights  – September 24, 2023

Permian Basin fracking

Eleven years ago, I wrote about the how millions of holes drilled deep into American soil were already destined to pollute groundwater across the United States, making many areas uninhabitable to humans who rely on such water. I warned that the so-called shale oil and gas boom would make this problem dramatically worse.

Now that problem has reached the news pages of southern Ohio, and this will likely just be the beginning of coverage of fracking-related damage to the country’s groundwater supplies. (There has been much coverage of studies that suggest such harm is inevitable and likely happening from fracking. But, we are now shifting into the stage where the actual harm will start to be discovered—almost certainly too late to prevent contamination in many cases.)

The main culprit (for now) is not the oil and gas wells themselves, but the injection wells used to dispose of huge volumes of water laced with toxic chemicals that have been injected into wells under great pressure to fracture underground rocks containing oil and natural gas in shale deposits. A lot of that water comes back to the surface and so must be disposed of. One of the easiest ways to do that is to pump it deep underground—many thousands of feet down—where it can supposedly be safely deposited away from the surface and far below drinking water aquifers used by us humans.

The trouble is—as I pointed out in my piece 11 years ago—the injected wastewater doesn’t necessarily stay put. And, that’s the problem in southern Ohio. In the Ohio case, “the [Ohio] Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management found that waste fluid injected into the three K&H [waste injection] wells had spread at least 1.5 miles underground and was rising to the surface through oil and gas production wells in Athens and Washington counties.”

This is why a former EPA scientist referenced in my 2012 piece believes that groundwater practically everywhere there is any kind of drilling will become contaminated within the next 100 years as toxic fluids migrate from working and abandoned oil and gas wells and wastewater injection wells into fresh drinking water aquifers.

Part of the problem is the piecemeal regulation of oil and gas operations and wastewater injection. States do the regulation and currently face large and powerful oil and gas companies and the companies that haul their toxic fracking wastewater away. The states have a difficult time monitoring what these companies are dumping, not least of all because the composition of the fluids used to fracture shale oil and gas deposits is considered a trade secret. States cannot easily pry open the files of these companies to find out exactly what is in these fluids.

The fact that companies which use hazardous chemicals that can easily get into the drinking water supply are not obliged to divulge publicly the formulas for the mixtures they inject underground ought to shock the public. But unless Congress fixes some or all of the exemptions from federal disclosure laws enjoyed by the oil and gas industry, the public will continue to be in the dark about the makeup of the waste fluids from oil and gas drilling, especially in shale oil and gas fields, and associated injection of toxic fluids deep into the Earth.

Without crucial information about contaminants which threaten public drinking water supplies, regulators and the public will be shadow-boxing their oil and gas industry foes. My guess is that if companies were obliged to release their fracking formulas and be subject to analysis of the actual fracking fluids and every community was by law informed of this information and its implications for public health, regulation of these practices would be far stricter and some current practices, such as injection of wastes underground, would be banned. Permian Basin fracking (2014) by Rhod08 via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Permianbasinfrac082014.png

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique, Oilprice.com, OilVoice, TalkMarkets, Investing.com, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions.

How climate change threatens some of the world’s most coveted real estate


How climate change threatens some of the world’s most coveted real estate

Kathleen Magramo and Chris Lau – September 23, 2023

Until recently, the upscale homes of the Redhill Peninsula seemed like an oasis for rich Hong Kongers aspiring to a tranquil lifestyle in an otherwise notoriously cramped metropolis of 7.5 million.

Its cliffside location and unobstructed views of the South China Sea made for great Feng Shui and offered the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of city life for its gated community of tycoons, expats and celebrities.

But that same pristine location worked against it on September 8, when a storm brought the heaviest rainfall in nearly 140 years to Hong Kong, wreaking havoc across the city.

Two people were killed and more than a hundred injured as more than 600mm (23.6 inches) of rain barreled down on the coastal city, flooding metro stations and turning roads into rivers.

The chaos was not confined to the flooded lowlands. Up on the edge of the cliff separating the Redhill Peninsula from the sea below it chipped away at the soil, leaving three millionaire homes perilously close to the edge and prompting an evacuation.

In a city that had just experienced its hottest summer on record, the unprecedented rainfall – itself the product of the second typhoon to have hit the city in the space of a week – was a potent demonstration of the threat posed by climate change and its associated extreme weather.

But for the residents of the Redhill Peninsula it was also a reminder that climate change is rewriting the rules of what can be considered “safe” construction, and that even the costliest, most well-constructed homes can be vulnerable.

For some it may even be a reminder that such rules exist at all. City authorities say they are investigating whether building code violations in some of the houses contributed to the problem, in a development likely to fuel perceptions that the rich don’t play by the same rules as the poor.

Whatever those investigations find, experts say extreme weather events like that of September 8 will become more frequent and when they do rich and poor alike will suffer the consequences – whichever rulebook they play by – even if the former have far more ability to bounce back from disasters than the latter.

As Benny Chan, the president of Hong Kong Institute of Architects, points out, Hong Kong has long been prone to typhoons and torrential downpours and has “plenty of experience building these kinds of cliffside houses.”

It also has stringent safety standards designed over many years with landslides in mind, he says. So it would have been reasonable – at least until a couple of weeks ago – to expect somewhere like the Redhill Peninsula to be a safe place to be in a storm.

But the old rules, experts say, may no longer apply.

Houses at the Redhill Peninsula, a luxurious residential estate in the Tai Tam area of Hong Kong, on September 13. - Chris Lau/CNN
Houses at the Redhill Peninsula, a luxurious residential estate in the Tai Tam area of Hong Kong, on September 13. – Chris Lau/CNN
A ‘sensitive’ issue

That is likely to be an uncomfortable realization for anyone who has invested in the Redhill Peninsula – one of the most expensive neighborhoods in one of the world’s most expensive property markets.

Properties here have the sort of appeal and cachet of the Malibu coast in Los Angeles. They have a distinctive Mediterranean style, with colors alternating in hues of cream and pink, and many have french windows overlooking the cove of Tai Tam, a scenic spot with a lush hiking trail nearby and ample shelter for luxury yachts to anchor below.

They can go for between $10 million-$20 million for a 2,400-3,600 square foot home (and rent for up to $20,000 a month). Or at least, they could before the recent downpour. Local real estate agents say what effect the storm will have on property prices is a “sensitive” issue for some in the community.

When CNN visited Redhill last week, sports cars and SUVs sporting the logos of Porsche, Land Rover and Ferrari were among the vehicles that cruised past the palm-tree-lined entrance, where a security guard stood like an impenetrable wall preventing the gaggle of assembled journalists from going in.

The real pull of the district, according to a real estate agent with more than two decades of experience selling properties here, is its tight-knit community.

“It has an international school and kids can hang out with one another at home after school,” said the agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. She was referring to the Hong Kong International School, one of the most prestigious in town.

“Almost every house comes with a view of the sea,” she said, adding that while the development is far from the hustle and bustle of the city, it offers a convenient shuttle bus service to ferry residents around.

The three houses most affected by the landslides were between 2,700 and 3,000 square feet in size, each valued at up to $11.5 million, the agent said.

She added that she had noticed a change of mood in recent days and expects anyone trying to sell a property – especially one near to the sea – to lay low for a while.

“It’s sensitive timing,” she said.

Flooded roads after heavy rains in Hong Kong on September 8. - Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Flooded roads after heavy rains in Hong Kong on September 8. – Tyrone Siu/Reuters
The old rules may not apply

Heavy rain is far from unusual in Hong Kong, especially during the summer months.

Even so, recent weather patterns have been unsettling to many, with two consecutive typhoons sweeping across the region within a space of less than two weeks.

Typhoon Saola, which barreled through Hong Kong on September 1, was the strongest to hit the city in five years. A week later, the remnants of Typhoon Haikui unleashed the rains that caused the problems at Redhill, dozens of landslides and left large swathes of the city underwater.

Scientists say climate change will make such weather events only more frequent and some are urging Hong Kong to rethink its rain mitigation strategy.

Leung Wing-mo, former assistant director of the city’s weather observatory, told public broadcaster RTHK that rainstorms are becoming harder to predict because of climate change.

“In the past few decades, record-breaking events have been occurring much, much more frequently…This is a clear indication that climate change has a role to play. As a matter of fact, climate change is making extreme weather more extreme,” Leung said.

With that in mind, architects and civil engineers are also calling for the city to review standards set decades ago for hillside buildings, including many luxury mansions.

The city experienced some of its worst landslides in the 1970s, including one that knocked down a series of residential buildings in the city’s upscale Mid-Levels district, causing 67 deaths.

The same powerful rain that caused the Mid-Levels landslide in 1972 also triggered a hill in a district of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula to collapse, decimating a squatter site in Sau Mai Ping causing a further 71 deaths.

Structural engineering professor Ray Su, from the University of Hong Kong, said that the series of catastrophic incidents had prompted the government of the time to reinforce slopes across the city, turning Hong Kong into one of the most resilient places against landslides and floods in the world.

But some engineers fear safety rules that seemed adequate in the past may no longer be enough.

Su noted that some of the city’s low-rise houses were still built on shallow footings.

In extreme rain scenarios, “they will take a big hit when landslides crumble down,” he said.

The Redhill Plaza shopping center in the Tai Tam area of Hong Kong on September 13, 2023. - Chris Lau/CNN
The Redhill Plaza shopping center in the Tai Tam area of Hong Kong on September 13, 2023. – Chris Lau/CNN
‘A ticking time bomb’

Complicating matters in the case of the Redhill Peninsula is the suggestion by authorities that some of properties in danger may not even have been playing by the old rules.

In the wake of the storm, government authorities detected what they suspect may be illegal alterations made to the three Redhill properties – alterations that experts say may have contributed to the disaster.

That suggestion is something of a third rail issue in a city that has a track record of scandals involving wealthy individuals and politicians altering their properties and violating building codes with the sort of illegal extensions skeptics say the less well-off wouldn’t get away with.

Hong Kong’s Buildings Department says among those unauthorized modifications are basements, a swimming pool, and a three-story extension.

So controversial is the issue that even the city’s leader John Lee has stepped in, vowing that the government will investigate and prosecute anyone found to have violated building codes.

“The landslide at Redhill Peninsula has already shown us that part of the estate carries risks, so relevant departments will target the estate for inspections,” he said last week.

Preliminary investigations have shown a retaining wall was demolished in one of the houses.

Chan, from the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, said the modification could destabilize the structure of the cliff below and greatly affect the drainage of the soil underneath, ultimately causing landslides.

“The more the water is trapped, the less the slope can maintain a high steepness,” Chan said.

He said while painful lessons in the past had given rise to high standards on building retaining walls and drainage systems, the old set of requirements is slowly losing relevance.

“These standards were set a long time ago,” he said.

“Can the present standards withstand that much rain? It is time for the government to look at them again,” he added.

Chan Kim-ching, founder of Liber Research Community, a non-government organization that focuses on scrutinizing the authorities on land policies, said the safety problems that arose from illegal modifications went far further than the cases at Redhill.

His group recently compared contracts available on public records and identified at least 173 individual houses across the city suspected of violations on public land.

“We studied it in the past because it involves the fair use of public resources. Never did it strike us that it’s an issue that would threaten public safety,” he said.

“It is like a ticking time bomb,” Chan said.

Saltwater intrusion creates drinking water emergency for southeast Louisiana

Shreveport Times

Saltwater intrusion creates drinking water emergency for southeast Louisiana

Greg LaRose – September 22, 2023

NEW ORLEANS — The historic drought currently baking Louisiana has created an emergency for areas in the southeastern part of the state that depend on the Mississippi River for their drinking water. The flow of saltwater upriver from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to reach New Orleans in exactly a month and has already impacted communities below the city.

Unless rainfall in the upper Mississippi and Ohio River valleys increases dramatically — forecasts say it won’t anytime soon — water systems in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes could have to depend on an emergency bulk water supply to dilute treated saltwater coming from the river.

The influx of saltwater has the potential to affect the drinking water of nearly 900,000 Louisiana residents, based on the most recent U.S. Census estimates.

“Unfortunately, we just haven’t had the relief from dry conditions that we need,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday at a news conference in New Orleans. State and local leaders, emergency management officials and representatives with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined the governor for an impromptu Unified Command Group meeting in city.

The corps previously constructed a sill, or an underwater levee, rising from the river bottom to 30 feet below the surface to prevent saltwater intrusion from entering drinking water systems. It used the same method last summer in drought conditions that didn’t persist as long as the current dry weather has.

Col. Cullen Jones, commander of the corps’ New Orleans district, said saltwater topped the sill Wednesday. Its height will be increased to 5 feet below the river’s surface over the next three weeks, which Jones said should delay saltwater moving up the river for 10 to 15 days.

The sill will still have a notch 55 feet deep to accommodate river traffic, the colonel said.

Even with a higher sill in the river, Jones provided a timeline for when areas upriver should expect saltwater to reach the intakes of their drinking water systems, starting with Belle Chasse by Oct. 13.

The city of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish have separate drinking water intakes on each side of the river. Saltwater is forecast to reach the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans intake in Algiers by Oct. 22, and the east bank intake at its Carrollton treatment plant by Oct. 28.

The corps’ timeline calls for saltwater at Jefferson’s intake in Gretna by Oct. 24, one day later at its west bank intake upriver, and Oct. 29 for its east bank intake.

Jones said the corps has already arranged for barges to carry up to 15 million gallons of freshwater by next week for systems that need to dilute the river water they treat for consumption. Ultimately, demand could reach 36 million gallons of freshwater per day to support drinking water plants from Gretna downriver to Boothville in Plaquemines Parish, Jones said.

The emergency freshwater supply will be taken from the river about 10 miles above the advancing saltwater wedge, according to the corps.

Ricky Boyett, a corps spokesman, said it’s not clear at the moment whether the affected water systems will need all 36 million gallons of emergency water supply. The corps’ barge fleet includes new vessels that will be put into use, but Boyett wasn’t able to say how many might be needed to handle the demand.

About 2,000 residents in lower Plaquemine have been provided bottled water in recent weeks because of the saltwater intrusion. Smaller systems there are using reverse osmosis to remove saltwater from their drinking supply.

As for an emergency water supply for intakes in New Orleans and Jefferson above Gretna, Jones said local water systems are pursuing different options. They might include having freshwater piped in from systems upriver, he said.

Rain outlook bleak

Weather forecasts call for a wetter than usual winter, Edwards said, but the short-term outlook precipitation isn’t as promising.

“We do need some rain. We’re not in charge of that,” the governor said, asking residents to pray for relief.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center for September called for lower-than-normal precipitation in the upper Mississippi River basin, where Edwards said rain must fall in significant quantities to increase river flow.

The flow needed for the Mississippi River to hold back saltwater is 300,000 cubic square feet per second (cfs), according to Jones. Its current drought-slowed flow rate is 140,000 cfs.

It would take 10 inches of rain across the entire Mississippi Valley to drastically change the situation downriver, Jones said.

Governor: No need for panic water buying

Edwards urged residents not to rush out and “panic buy” bottled water, adding that a similar recommendation he gave at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic led to toilet paper shortages.

“The more they were told (not to hoard it), the more they said, “I better go get some toilet paper,” the governor said.

A key difference between the saltwater intrusion emergency and the pandemic consumer crunch is that only a small portion of the country is affected by the current situation, the governor said. Retailers will be urged to increase their stock of drinking water, he added.

There are no known impacts to industrial water use from the river, but Edwards spokesperson Eric Holl said local water system officials could potentially ask high-volume customers to cut back their consumption if the saltwater situation worsens.

The most recent experience Louisiana has had with drought conditions impacting drinking water supplies was in 1988, when a saltwater wedge reached the city of Kenner. That emergency lasted just two days, while the current crisis has the potential to last months, Edwards said.

Possible health risks

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state’s medical officer, said high salinity in the drinking water supply poses a danger to certain patient populations: people with high blood pressure, who are likely to be on low-sodium diets; pregnant people in their third trimester, when they are at higher risk for hypertension; and infants reliant on formula mixed with water.

For these segments and others, there’s little chance they will consume any saltwater because it’s not palatable, Kanter said

“You will stop drinking the water because it doesn’t taste right, well before it becomes a danger to your health,” he said.

Saltwater intrusion into distribution systems could corrode lead and galvanized steel pipes, causing heavy metals to leach into drinking water, Kanter added. Such corrosion is difficult to predict, he said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who signed a citywide emergency declaration Friday, said the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans will actively monitor its water quality and be transparent with testing results. She acknowledged lead pipes, banned from use in U.S. water systems in 1986, remain in use in New Orleans.

The city, like others around the country, doesn’t have an accurate map of where lead pipes are in use. The Sewerage and Water Board is taking part in a program to identify them ahead of President Joe Biden’s ambitious October 2024 deadline to end all use of lead in drinking water systems.

The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has added updates on the saltwater intrusion situation to its website, emergency.la.gov. Cantrell urged New Orleans residents to follow ready.nola.gov, where they can sign up for text message updates.

Kanter said local officials will put out health advisories if salinity levels in the drinking water reach 250 parts per million, a level considered threatening to health.

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to cast light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians, particularly those who are poor or otherwise marginalized.

Drought sparks drinking water concerns as saltwater creeps up Mississippi River

The Guardian

Drought sparks drinking water concerns as saltwater creeps up Mississippi River

Sara Sneath – September 22, 2023

<span>Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP</span>
Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

The New Orleans mayor, LaToya Cantrell, signed an emergency declaration for the city on Friday amid concerns about saltwater from the the Gulf of Mexico that has been creeping up the drought-hit Mississippi River in Louisiana.

The declaration came amid concerns the saltwater, which is impacting the river because it is at such low levels, could impact the drinking water of thousands of residents in the next few weeks

The Louisiana governor, John Bel Edwards, said the state would be requesting an emergency declaration from the federal government in the next couple of days as well to get federal funds and agencies involved.

For those who rely on the Mississippi River for drinking water, the saltwater intrusion is a potential health risk, as high concentrations of salt in drinking water may cause people to develop increased blood pressure and corrode drinking water infrastructure.

Related: EPA failed to sound alarm in Michigan water crisis, watchdog finds

The saltwater has already entered the drinking water of communities south of New Orleans – from Empire Bridge to Venice, Louisiana – making the water undrinkable for about 2,000 residents and causing water outages at local schools. As the saltwater moves upriver, it could affect the drinking water for another 20,000 people in Belle Chasse. After that it could reach the drinking water intake for the New Orleans community of Algiers, across the river from the French Quarter.

To slow the progression of the saltwater, the army corps of engineers constructed an underwater barrier in downriver from New Orleans in July.

On Friday, the corps released an updated timeline of the saltwater intrusion in the river that includes the delay added by the underwater barrier. With the barrier in place, the saltwater would not reach the Belle Chasse drinking water intake until 13 October and the Algiers intake until 22 October.

Governor Edwards said his team is working with the four parishes at the end of the Mississippi River that are already affected by the low river water. “I found out today that the forecast is for above average amounts of precipitation in winter. But that’s still several months away,” he said. “And what we need most in Louisiana right now, for the Mississippi River, we need rain further up north in the Ohio Valley.”

Colonel Cullen Jones of the army corps of engineers said that 10in of rain would be needed across the entire Mississippi Valley to increase the Mississippi River flow high enough to push back the seawater.

The mouth of the Mississippi River is below sea level. Because saltwater is denser than freshwater it is moving underneath the freshwater along the bottom of the river in a wedge shape.

The lowest Mississippi River levels recorded in modern history were in 1988, when seawater entered the water systems of New Orleans for a couple of days before it was pushed back down the river by freshwater. But forecasts show the current day low river levels could become more severe, potentially allowing saltwater to remain in the system from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, said Colonel Jones.

The corps is also working on a plan to deliver 15m gallons to the southern parishes by next week. Together the water treatment systems that could be contaminated with saltwater by 24 October use 36m gallons of water per day.

The barrier was intended to slow the upstream movement of the saltwater, but the salt wedge has overtopped the barrier. Similar barriers were constructed in 1988, 2012 and 2022. This is the first time the barrier has needed to be built in back-to-back years. Last year, the barrier wasn’t overtopped, he added.

Communities along the river are keeping a close eye on the upstream movement of the saltwater wedge and testing the salinity levels near their water system intakes, said Dr Joseph Kanter, the state health officer and medical director for the Louisiana department of health. “Everyone along the river knows where the wedge is and when it’s approaching. That’s not going to be a surprise,” he said.

While salt is not a federally regulated contaminant, it could be a health concern for people who are on low salt diets and for those who are pregnant. The World Health Organization’s drinking water guideline suggests that 200mg of sodium a liter is the threshold at which most people will not want to drink the water because of taste. When saltwater is pumped through a water distribution system it can cause pipes to corrode, potentially leaching heavy metals from the pipes and pipe fittings into drinking water.

But it is difficult to predict which metals might leach from pipes, as distribution systems are all different and some do not have full maps of their systems. “So, a hallmark of the response is going to be frequent testing of the water that is going through the water systems distribution network,” Kanter said.

The corps of engineers is exploring barging river water from upriver to areas being affected by the saltwater intrusion and smaller communities south of Louisiana are sourcing reverse osmosis devices capable of desalinating water, Kanter said. But those measures would probably not be able to replace the amount of water used by New Orleans, with a population of nearly 370,000 people.

Kanter reiterated that the current estimates are worst-case scenarios.

Multiple days of rainfall in the Missouri and Ohio River Basins would be necessary to increase the freshwater flow of the Mississippi River, said Julie Lesko, a senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service New Orleans/Baton Rouge office. “When we look at what could happen over a two-week period we’re not seeing anything significant that would make its way down river to alleviate the problems,” she said.

Coastal communities across the US are facing similar challenges with saltwater intrusion, said Allison Lassiter, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania focused on urban water management.

Desalination systems have limitations because they are expensive and don’t produce a lot of water. “This will be a difficult nut to crack,” she said.

Sea level rise will make the conditions that allow saltwater intrusion into the Mississippi River more likely in the future, said Soni Pradhanang, an associate professor of hydrology and water quality at the University of Rhode Island. Climate change is also expected to exacerbate droughts by making them longer and more frequent. “We’re only going to see this happening more,” she said. “Sea level rise will lead to increased salinity as more of this seawater pushes up into the estuaries and inland.”

Water levels on the Mississippi River are plummeting for the second year in a row


Water levels on the Mississippi River are plummeting for the second year in a row

Rachel Ramirez, Eric Zerkel and Brandon Miller – September 21, 2023

Water levels along the Mississippi River are plummeting for the second year in a row after this summer’s blistering heat and low rainfall triggered extreme drought across parts of the Central US.

The low water levels have made a unique rock formation in the Mississippi River, usually surrounded by water, accessible by foot, and the Army Corps of Engineers is increasing the size of a levee in Louisiana to prevent saltwater from surging into drinking water in New Orleans.

The drought comes as a critical harvest season approaches and farmers across the Midwest are concerned about water supply and barge deliveries. Officials and residents along the river worry about the widespread impacts another decline could bring.

Every water level gauge along a nearly 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi from the Ohio River to Jackson, Mississippi, is at or below the low-water threshold, according data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and US Geological Survey.

The same stretch of the river experienced record-low water levels last year in October, which brought major impacts on farming communities and barge traffic during the critical harvest period, where staple Midwestern crops including soybeans, corn and wheat are transported down the river.

“We’ve been teetering on drought, extreme drought since last fall,” said Colin Wellenkamp, the executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a network that includes mayors and experts along the Mississippi River.

“We get a little reprieve, and then it’s warm and dry,” Wellenkamp told CNN. “We really haven’t ever totally climbed out of the drought from last fall for the whole river yet.”

Exceptional drought – the worst category – has spread across parts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. This year has so far been the hottest on record for Louisiana and Mississippi, according to recent figures from NOAA dating through August.

Extreme drought is present in several states across the Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri, according to the US Drought Monitor.

“Those four states have really been significantly impacted by drought since last winter, it’s just ongoing,” Wellenkamp said.

Tower Rock accessible again – with a catch

A rock formation in the Mississippi River normally only reachable by boat is accessible by foot for the second year in a row due to the drought and low water levels, gauge data shows and officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation told CNN, but work on a pipeline is impeding road access to the formation.

Tower Rock juts out of the Mississippi River in Perry County, south of St. Louis and around 25 miles north of Cape Girardeau. When water levels drop below 1.5 feet at a nearby river gauge, enough of the underlying ground is exposed for people to walk to the formation.

Water levels at the gauge were near zero as of September 20, with no improvement forecast in the near term.

This rare occurrence happened last October amid another severe drought, causing tourists to flock to the site.

People were able to walk to Tower Rock, normally only accessible by boat, on October 19 2022, in Perry County, Missouri. - Jeff Roberson/AP
People were able to walk to Tower Rock, normally only accessible by boat, on October 19 2022, in Perry County, Missouri. – Jeff Roberson/AP

“Previous to last year, it was probably only accessible once or twice in the last decade,” Steve Schell, a natural history biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, told CNN.

Unfortunately for potential tourists, road access to the site is impeded by construction work on a pipeline, officials with the Missouri Department of Conservation told CNN. They urged people to schedule a visit at a later date, but said they were unaware when the work would be completed.

None of the officials CNN spoke to had been to the site since it became accessible by foot, both because of the lack of road access and because of low water levels which made it hard to access by boat.

“Part of the consequences of low water, is there are not a lot of places you can put a boat in on the river anymore,” Schell said. “All of those places are dry, and the only place they have right now is south of Cape Girardeau. Tower rock is, off the top of my head, 20 or 30 miles from the only available boat ramp.

Salty ocean water threatens drinking water

As water levels drop, the threat of saltwater intrusion is growing in Louisiana as ocean water pushes north into drinking water systems, unimpeded by the Mississippi’s normally mighty flow rate.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for Plaquemines Parish in July as saltwater began to impact drinking water systems there, and the US Army Corps of Engineers built a 1,500-foot-wide underwater levee south of New Orleans to prevent it from pushing even farther north.

Last week, Plaquemines Parish President W. Keith Hinkley said at a news conference that clean water was being distributed to around 2,000 residents who were impacted by the saltwater intrusion. The Army Corps also announced plans at the same news conference to make the levee larger.

“Based off the current forecast, and if no action is taken, you could potentially see the saltwater wedge all the way up to the French Quarter,” Cullen Jones, commander of the Army Corps’ New Orleans District office, said at a news conference on Friday.

Colonel Cullen Jones, commander and district engineer for New Orleans District US Army Corps of Engineers, meets with the media to talk about the low river concerns in the Mississippi River on September 15. - Chris Granger/The Advocate/AP
Colonel Cullen Jones, commander and district engineer for New Orleans District US Army Corps of Engineers, meets with the media to talk about the low river concerns in the Mississippi River on September 15. – Chris Granger/The Advocate/AP

But as the Army Corps is building up the riverbed in Louisiana, it has been dredging other portions of the river to keep traffic flowing – albeit at a slower pace than normal. The treacherously low river has been impeding hundreds of barges and vessels from passing through — and it is also causing the cost of transporting some of the harvest to soar.

“They have to light load barges in order to get them to float, so it’s more trips,” Wellenkamp said. “And so you’re not putting as much product into one barge. The barge will move on, and it’s gotta go back again — all of this eats up a lot of fuel and eats up a lot of time.”

There are also signs that drought and low water levels get worse in the Upper Midwest as El Nino strengthens in the Pacific Ocean, said Jonathan T. Overpeck, dean of the school for environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan. But this year’s conditions were not caused by the natural climate phenomenon, he said.

“This is heat that has already been trapped in the system due to climate change,” Overpeck told CNN.

Unless officials invest in efficient climate adaptation projects to protect communities, he said, it will be an increasingly challenging problem as the planet warms.

“These conditions will only become more frequent, if we don’t phase out fossil fuels,” Overpeck said. “It’s cooking the planet and we’re seeing the impacts unfold in the Mississippi River right now.”

Not sure what planet DeSantis is living on when he says: Humans are ‘safer than ever’ from effects of climate change


DeSantis: Humans are ‘safer than ever’ from effects of climate change

Kelly Garrity – September 20, 2023

Bryon Houlgrave/AP Photo

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that humans are “safer than ever” from the effects of climate change, less than a month after a hurricane pounded Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The use of the phrase “climate change” increased between 2018 and 2020, DeSantis said during a campaign speech rolling out his energy policy in Midland, Texas. Despite reports from the World Meteorological Organization showing that climate change impacts continued to worsen during that time, DeSantis attributed the term’s jump in use to “ideology.”

“This is driven by ideology. It’s not driven by reality,” DeSantis said. “In reality, human beings are safer than ever from climate disasters. The death rate for climate disasters has declined by 98 percent over the last hundred years, and the No. 1 reason for that is people that have had access to reliable electricity, have power.”

While the number of weather-related natural disasters caused by climate change has increased, related deaths have fallen over the last 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Experts attribute the decline to better forecasting and better infrastructure for dealing with extreme weather.

DeSantis’ remarks come less than a year after Hurricane Ian — the second-deadliest storm the continental U.S. has seen in decades, after Hurricane Katrina — devastated his home state, leaving more than 100 people dead and destroying homes and businesses.

Last month, Florida grappled with the fallout from another storm, Hurricane Idalia, which pummeled the state and left more than 245,000 customers without electricity as trees snapped by strong winds brought down power lines. Four people died in the hurricane.

The World Health Organization said climate change is “the biggest health threat facing humanity” and is expected to cause “approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress” between 2030 and 2050 from lack of “clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.”

DeSantis wants to rollback climate measures as he embraces ‘drill, baby, drill’ mentality

Sarasota Herald – Tribune

DeSantis wants to rollback climate measures as he embraces ‘drill, baby, drill’ mentality

Zac Anderson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune – September 20, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends a live taping of Hannity at Fox News Channel Studios on September 13, 2023 in New York City. DeSantis unveiled his energy policy platform on Wednesday during an event in Texas. The plan emphasizes the development of new fossil fuel resources.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attends a live taping of Hannity at Fox News Channel Studios on September 13, 2023 in New York City. DeSantis unveiled his energy policy platform on Wednesday during an event in Texas. The plan emphasizes the development of new fossil fuel resources.

Gov. Ron DeSantis dismissed fears about climate change plunging the planet into crisis Wednesday during an event in Texas where he rolled out an energy policy platform focused on developing new sources of fossil fuels.

Once hailed by environmental advocates for his green initiatives as governor, DeSantis positioned himself Wednesday as an ardent critic of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to renewable energy sources and electric vehicles.

“We’ve seen a concerted effort to ramp up the fear when it comes to things like global warming and climate change,” DeSantis said.

Noting that phrases like “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” have grown in use, DeSantis said: “This is driven by ideology, it’s not driven by reality. In reality, human beings are safer than ever from climate disasters.”

The comments are among DeSantis’ most aggressive and extensive in pushing back against climate change concerns, which are especially pertinent in his home state of Florida where sea level rise and stronger hurricanes fed by warming waters are a major worry for climate scientists.

President Joe Biden raised concerns about climate change making natural disasters worse after Hurricane Idalia – which rapidly intensified in the warm Gulf of Mexico waters – smashed into Florida, prompting a rebuttal from DeSantis. The governor’s energy plan is an extended rebuttal to Biden’s energy and climate policies.

DeSantis wants to end subsidies for electric vehicles and pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. He would withdraw from the Global Methane Pledge and any commitments to move toward net zero emissions, and also wants to remove the words “climate change” from some federal planning documents.

“We will also replace the phrase climate change with energy dominance in natural security and foreign policy guidance,” DeSantis said.

The governor delivered his remarks in front of an oil rig in West Texas, a major oil and gas drilling region. He promised speedy permitting of new oil and gas permits, saying his goal is to get gasoline prices down to $2 a gallon.

“We’re going to unleash our energy sector,” DeSantis said, adding: “We will green light oil and gas drilling extraction… I will demand faster approvals than any president in history. If bureaucrats are slowing down projects then those bureaucrats will lose their jobs.”

DeSantis first ran for governor in 2018 on an environmental protection platform as Florida faced a series of devastating algae blooms. Shortly after taking office he issued an executive order focused mostly on water quality initiatives, but it also incorporated efforts to help Florida prepare for climate impacts, raising hopes among environmental advocates that he would provide leadership on the issue.

DeSantis established a new state office to deal with sea level rise led by the state’s first chief resiliency officer, and pushed to fund climate mitigation efforts. His first budget proposal called for funding to address “the challenges of sea level rise, intensified storm events, and localized flooding.”

An editorial in the Tampa Bay Times lauded DeSantis as “Florida’s green governor” and said he “has done more to protect the environment and tackle climate change in one week than his predecessor did in eight years.”

Leading environmental activists hoped DeSantis would go beyond preparing Florida for the impacts of climate change and take strong actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are released by burning fossil fuels and create a greenhouse effect when they accumulate in the atmosphere, warming the planet.

DeSantis touted Florida’s heavy reliance on natural gas as an energy source Wednesday, noting it produces lower emissions than coal. But environmental activists have been disappointed by the state’s energy policies and have pushed for emissions-free sources.

‘Green governor’ to ‘active hostility’: DeSantis’ shifting climate change politics

DeSantis questioned the dependability of some energy sources.

“We will not rely on unproven technologies that lead to blackouts… we need reliable energy in this country,” he said, adding: “When disaster strikes, when you need to get people’s electricity back on I can’t rely on windmills, I need oil and gas to get the job done.”

DeSantis wants to be “Panderer in Chief”: Ron DeSantis unveils energy platform, aims to “stop inflation and achieve $2 gas in 2025”

The Des Moines Register

Ron DeSantis unveils energy platform, aims to “stop inflation and achieve $2 gas in 2025”

Katie Akin, Des Moines Register – September 20, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled an energy platform Wednesday that emphasizes American fuel production and dismisses concerns about climate change.

DeSantis announced a six-point energy plan during a campaign visit to Texas on Wednesday. The plan centers on increasing domestic production of oil and gas, while repealing or withdrawing from initiatives meant to lower carbon emissions and curb the effects of climate change.

“As president, I will fight to ensure our energy is abundant, affordable, and American,” DeSantis told the Des Moines Register in a statement. “That means protecting all liquid fuels, including biofuels, from harmful government regulation and preventing California from setting America’s environmental standards. Under my administration, we will get back to commonsense energy policies that help Iowa farmers and families, starting with eliminating mandates for electric vehicles and ending our energy sector’s reliance on China.”

DeSantis said prioritizing “American energy dominance” will “stop inflation and achieve $2 gas in 2025.”

The national average price of gas dropped below $2 during the COVID-19 pandemic, as far fewer people were driving. But the last time the U.S. saw a sustained period of gas prices below $2 was in 2004.

An analysis by the National Association of Convenience Stores found that every president since 2000 has left office with higher gas prices than when they took office.

What does Ron DeSantis have planned for Iowa biofuels?

In a Wednesday news release, DeSantis pledged to protect biofuels from “harmful government regulation” and to eliminate surtaxes on liquid fuels.

However, his policy announcement did not include details about the renewable fuel standard, a goal set by the Environmental Protection Agency to mix a certain amount of renewable fuels — like ethanol — into gasoline and diesel.

While serving in Congress, DeSantis co-sponsored a bill that would eliminate the renewable fuel standard.

A column published in the Register earlier this month offers more insight into DeSantis’ plan for biofuels. DeSantis wrote that he will work with Gov. Kim Reynolds to support the year-round sale of E15, and he would introduce higher ethanol blends, like E30, to consumers.

How would Ron DeSantis address climate change?

DeSantis calls for American energy dominance to take priority over “climate change ideology.”

He would repeal President Joe Biden’s incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles and Biden-era rule to protect thousands of small waterways. DeSantis said he would also withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, the Global Methane Pledge and all “Net Zero” commitments.

More: Ron DeSantis’ shifting climate change politics: From ‘green governor’ to ‘active hostility’

During the first GOP presidential debate, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they believe human activities are warming the planet. DeSantis bristled at the question, telling the moderators “We’re not school children” and launching into a criticism of the media.

When pressed on the question, DeSantis said, “No, no, no — I didn’t raise a hand.”

USA Today reporter Zac Anderson contributed reporting.