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Report: Utilities are less likely to replace lead pipes in low-income communities of color

Aging water infrastructure needs constant attention and investment to ensure safety for everyone — especially if the U.S. wants to avoid another Flint water crisis. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, water utility companies should invest more than $300 billion over the next two decades to renew and improve their networks of service lines and underground pipes, many of which contain lead. In part this is because the health effects of lead exposure are so severe: Even low levels can cause irreversible neurological damage.

Eliminating lead pipes across the country is the ultimate goal, but the standard practice of many utilities makes this exceptionally difficult. Utilities generally consider pipes on private property as belonging to customers — so they often won’t use government or utility money to replace them. Instead, they’ll opt to replace only the portion of the system on public property, unless homeowners volunteer to pay for service line replacements on their lots. If property owners fail to opt in, the lead service line is only partially replaced — and this ultimately provides limited or no long-term decrease in exposure risks. In fact, it can actually increase the possibility of lead seeping into drinking water in the short term.

As a result of this approach, low-income communities of color can see much spottier replacement rates in their neighborhoods — in large part because property owners in these areas are unwilling or simply unable to front the significant costs required to achieve a full replacement of service lines.

“If a program primarily benefits those with money, you’re going to have an environmental justice problem,” said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “We need to make sure all residents, without regard to how much money they make or the color of their skin, benefit from these rules designed to protect people and protect public health.”

A new report from the EDF and American University’s Center for Environmental Policy bears this out. Researchers analyzed more than 3,400 lead service line replacements in Washington, D.C., that occurred between 2009 and 2018. During this 10-year period, the local water utility only covered the cost of replacing lead service lines on public property, requiring customers to pay for the remainder of the service occurring on private property.

After cross-examining the city’s neighborhood demographics and the participation rate of those who chose to front service costs, researchers discovered vast disparities between predominantly low-income African American households and wealthier white households. The city’s Ward 3, for instance, where the median household income is $107,499 and a large majority of residents don’t identify as black or African American, had the highest rate of customer-initiated lead service line replacements. Meanwhile, Wards 7 and 8, both predominantly low-income black neighborhoods, had the lowest rates of service replacements.

Clayton Aldern / Grist

“Washington D.C. was very aggressive in a good way in making it easy for residents to participate,” said Neltner. “But the numbers showed us results of the unintended consequence — where people with money participated in the program and those without, didn’t.”

The analysis also highlights that the Trump administration’s recent proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule would amplify the financial burden on low-income communities of color by continuing the existing replacement paradigm, where utilities are only responsible for paying for lead pipe replacements on public property.

“We work closely with utilities across the country, and what they need is to find a way to move out of this paradigm that residents are fully responsible for paying to replace on private property,” Neltner said. “I want them to look and say: ‘We need to do this not only for public health benefit, but also because of environmental justice concerns.’”

As of today, Madison, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Michigan, are the only major cities ahead of the curve, having successfully removed all of their aging lead service lines. It wasn’t easy for Madison, but after court hearings and public battles, officials eventually launched an ambitious program in 2000 to replace every single lead service pipe across the city. Lansing, Michigan, followed suit and removed its last lead water service line in 2016. After what happened in Flint, Michigan, many other cities are also beginning to move more quickly towards the same goal of eliminating lead-based pipes.

Last year, Washington, D.C., passed a new law that bans partial lead service line replacements during infrastructure projects and emergency repairs — meaning property owners no longer have to shoulder the costs in these cases. The policy also amends the previous regulations by providing financial support to homeowners who didn’t get a chance to replace their pipes under the old policy.

“It’s going to take a while, but we need every opportunity we can get to fully replace these lines,” said Neltner. “Once you realize that lead pipes are a significant source of health risk to children and adults, you then realize you need to get them out of the ground.”

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Report: Utilities are less likely to replace lead pipes in low-income communities of color

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Bloomberg bombed the debate, but his climate record is pretty good

In between absorbing blows from his fellow presidential contenders at the ninth Democratic debate in Nevada on Wednesday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to present his vision for what his climate agenda might look like if he were elected the next president of the United States. He didn’t quite succeed.

That’s a testament to how bad his debate performance was — because of all the candidates on stage, the billionaire latecomer probably has the strongest climate bona fides. He’s donated millions to shutter coal plants across the United States with his “Beyond Coal” partnership with the Sierra Club, something he briefly touted Wednesday night. In the absence of federal leadership on climate, he’s worked with cities and states to negotiate emissions reductions goals as part of America’s Pledge, an initiative he helped launch.

Similarly to his answers to questions about his personal wealth and treatment of women, Bloomberg basically bungled his opportunity to respond persuasively to prompts about rising temperatures and international cooperation. Aligning himself with moderate candidates like Amy Klobuchar, Bloomberg came out in support of natural gas as a “transition fuel.” Natural gas production in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years due to the fracking boom, but recent research shows the fracking industry is largely responsible for a prolonged spike in methane emissions, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than carbon in the short term. (On Thursday, a spokesperson clarified to Grist that Bloomberg believes that “while gas played a useful role in the early stages of transitioning away from coal, its role as a transition fuel has ended now that renewable energy is cheaper and gas is now a bigger source of carbon pollution than coal.”)

Also on Wednesday night, instead of taking a hard line on China — currently the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas — Bloomberg pivoted to India, arguing that the developing country was an ”even bigger problem.” While India’s emissions are on the rise, China still emits four times as much carbon from fossil fuel use.

Pundits’ reviews of Bloomberg’s performance were overwhelmingly negative. For the time being though, it looks like Bloomberg’s stash of cash all but ensures his continued presence in the race. And if he can figure out how to communicate more clearly, the next debate is a chance to establish himself as a serious climate candidate.

So how might he do that? He could start by talking about his record. Bloomberg championed climate policies when few politicians were thinking about rising temperatures. After Superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of New York City in 2012, then-Mayor Bloomberg launched a sustainability agenda that was considered to be the most ambitious urban climate mitigation plan in the world.

He led a campaign to protect the city’s drinking water and waged a city-wide effort to revamp its garbage collection system. He created a sustainability task force and, later, a sustainability office that was tasked with tracking the city’s emissions. He attempted to introduce congestion pricing to limit car use in parts of the city. (Though that idea ultimately failed, it’s been reintroduced with more success recently.) Many of his efforts to green the Big Apple went the way of his failed ban on large sodas, but they laid groundwork for the upwelling of urban sustainability efforts happening now across the nation.

“Now you hear a lot about climate action at the national level,” Antha Williams, senior adviser for climate and environment for the Bloomberg campaign, told Grist. “But Mike was really the person who got a lot of that local work started.” That record, she said, will resonate with voters, many of whom say they consider climate change a top priority.

He can also go the Elizabeth Warren route, and get wonky. His specialty is the private sector. He could make a case for why he’s the best candidate to address corporate climate accountability. “One of the things he’s done over the past several years is lead a task force on climate-related financial disclosures,” Williams said, referencing a transparency initiative established in 2015 and chaired by Bloomberg. “That has put together a set of standards that should be reported for companies to actually show their exposure on climate change.”

Or he could set himself apart from his competitors by plugging the work he’s done on the international stage — an area where he is rivaled by only Joe Biden. The United Nations tapped him to be a climate envoy in 2014; and he also served as the head of C40, an international organization of cities committed to climate action. “When Trump walked away from the Paris climate agreement, Mike was there,” Williams said. “He was there to do the reporting that the U.S. shirked.”

Bloomberg’s climate platform checks many of the same boxes as his opponents’ plans: rejoin the Paris Agreement, halve the United States carbon emissions by 2030, invest in frontline communities to combat environmental injustice, the list goes on. As Pete Buttigieg said of those on the debate stage Wednesday night, “I’ve got a plan to get us carbon neutral by 2050. And I think everybody up here has a plan that more or less does the same. So the real question is, how are we going to actually get it done?”

Bloomberg is one of just a few candidates with an actual record to point to in answering that question. But you wouldn’t have known it from his time on stage in Las Vegas.

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Bloomberg bombed the debate, but his climate record is pretty good

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Storm Surge – Adam Sobel


Storm Surge

Hurricane Sandy, Our Changing Climate, and Extreme Weather of the Past and Future

Adam Sobel

Genre: Environment

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 14, 2014

Publisher: Harper Wave


A renowned scientist takes us through the devastating and unprecedented events of Hurricane Sandy, using it to explain our planet’s changing climate, and what we need to do to protect ourselves and our cities for the future. Was Hurricane Sandy a freak event—or a harbinger of things to come?  Was climate change responsible?  What connects the spiraling clouds our satellites saw from space, the brackish water that rose up over the city’s seawalls, and the slow simmer of greenhouse gases? Why weren't we better prepared? In this fascinating and accessible work of popular science, atmospheric scientist and Columbia University professor Adam Sobel addresses these questions, combining scientific explanation with first-hand experience of the event itself. He explains the remarkable atmospheric conditions that gave birth to Sandy and determined its path. He gives us insight into the sophisticated science that led to the forecasts of the storm before it hit, as well as an understanding of why our meteorological vocabulary failed our leaders in warning us about this unprecedented storm—part hurricane, part winter-type nor’easter, fully deserving of the title “Superstorm.” Storm Surge brings together the melting glaciers, the shifting jet streams, and the warming oceans to make clear how our changing climate will make New York and other cities more vulnerable than ever to huge storms—and how we need to think differently about these long-term risks if we hope to mitigate the damage. Engaging, informative, and timely, Sobel’s book provokes us to rethink the future of our climate and how we can better prepare for the storms to come.

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Storm Surge – Adam Sobel

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These hacked streets signs are the scariest thing you’ll see this Halloween

Gather ‘round, monsters, goblins, and ghouls. It’s Halloween, and we have spooky news from one of the scariest places in the world (if you’re terrified of tall buildings, pretty people, and loneliness).

A haunted hacker has been taking over New York City Department of Transportation electronic road signs to send messages to New Yorkers from the other side. The first supernatural transmissions arrived earlier this month and included such eerily true statements as “cars are death machines” and “cars melt glaciers.”

Now, for Halloween, the trickster has some new messages for commuters: “Forget poison candy” / “cars are the real danger.”

The sprite responsible for these spine-chilling messages has been dubbed Bikesy — the NYC bike-advocate version of Banksy (don’t yell at me, I didn’t come up with the nickname). Bikesy also left a “Happy Halloween” message on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn this morning, along with a warning: “Don’t be creepy” / “Leave the car at home.”

OK, fine. Whoever is hacking into road signs is most likely a transportation nerd with tech skills and some free time, not a tormented spirit from beyond. But you know what is super scary? Cars!

Some 40,000 Americans died in car crashes last year, according to an estimate by the National Safety Council. Cars killed 111 New Yorkers in the first six months of 2019 alone. That means vehicles are way deadlier than guns, which killed 61 people in the city during the same period, according to NYPD data. So far this year, 25 cyclists have been killed by vehicles in the Big Apple, more than double the number of cyclists that were killed by cars in the entirety of 2018.

And Halloween is a particularly dangerous time for people trying to share the street with cars. Research shows it’s the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrians, who are three times more likely to be killed by a car on this day. For kids between 4 and 8 years old, the risk is 10 times higher. Not to mention the fact that gas-powered vehicles are a major contributor to climate change and air pollution, both of which come with their own major health risks.

How’s that for a scary story? The moral is clear: if you don’t want to be cursed for all eternity, listen to Bikesy and leave the car at home tonight.

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These hacked streets signs are the scariest thing you’ll see this Halloween

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Can Used Aluminum Foil Be Recycled?

Aluminum foil is a staple in most modern kitchens.?Pliable and easily manipulated, it’s a favorite first choice for wrapping everything from a potato to a casserole dish. Foil is also often?used in disposable packaging thanks to its ability to act as a total barrier against light and oxygen. It preserves things beautifully!

Because of aluminum foil, fats are kept from going rancid, moisture in food items is retained?and?ready-take snacks are shelf stable. Lasagnas get crispy and bubbly on top, fish gets perfectly steamed, quiches don’t get freezer burned. In other words: it’s a staple for a reason.

But what do you do with it once it’s been used? Can aluminum foil with food bits on it be recycled??

Aluminum products are among the easiest metals to recycle because they can be melted down and turned into something new essentially forever. It’s also the most cost-effective choice for most manufacturers. Brand new aluminum is really expensive and energy-intensive to produce; recycling?aluminum is much cheaper.

The main challenge is, of course, food contamination. Oil and grease can damage recycling equipment and create an inferior end product, so food-affected recyclables typically have to be thrown away. That recycling contamination is a risk most facilities aren’t willing to take.

While some companies accept aluminum foil as long as it’s been cleaned, others decide they’d rather protect their equipment than accept it as recyclable. To get your aluminum foil recycled, you’ll need to take the following steps. Even then, getting it recycled?isn’t a guarantee!

1. Check if your city?accepts aluminum foil.

Ask your local curbside pickup company if they take foil.
Use this recycling locator?to find a new recycler if it doesn’t.

2. Clean the foil thoroughly.

Rinse off small bits of food (discoloration from hot water is normal).
Tear off sections that you can’t get clean.
If soiled with greasy foods like meat, gravy or butter,?you’ll have to toss it.

3. Ball it up.

Crumple foil into a ball so it won’t get torn or stuck in recycling machinery.
Save and add to it over the weeks and months. Larger balls are easier to process.
Make sure the aluminum ball is at least 2-inches in diameter before recycling it.
Save foil from yogurt containers, K-cups and takeout containers.

4. Start reusing foil.

Save foil after cooking to use for your next meal.
Clean aluminum foil can be folded up and put in the fridge until next time.
Foil from your cooking dish can be reused to cover leftovers.

5. Eliminate foil from your life wherever you can.

There are plenty of reusable alternatives to aluminum foil.

Related Stories:

Is It Safe to Cook with Aluminum Foil?
How to Host a Zero Waste Dinner Party
How to Lead a Nearly Zero Waste Life

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Can Used Aluminum Foil Be Recycled?

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New map shows all the cities leading the world in climate action

Have you heard about the A list? It’s harder to clinch a spot on it than it is to score an invite to the Met Gala. And your city may be on it.

An environmental impact nonprofit called the CDP (formerly known as the carbon disclosure project) just released a list of cities that led the world in environmental performance last year. Only 43 metropolises got As in the organization’s first-ever assessment, and nearly half of them are in the United States!

Twenty-one cities in the United States made the list. And a whopping nine cities in the San Francisco Bay area got As, too — making up 21 percent of all the cities on the list. Cities all across the map — like Cape Town, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, and Paris — qualified as A-listers, as well.

So what kind of policies get you on the A list? Five of the U.S. cities are on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050 — a target that is emerging as the gold standard of decarbonization: Boston; Indianapolis; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and West Palm Beach, Florida. Those cities may be leading the charge, but they are not alone: the Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 campaign has calculated that more than 90 U.S. cities have set or are in the process of setting 100 percent renewable energy targets.

The CDP determined the way each city scored by looking at things like climate risk and vulnerability, whether the city in question had a climate change adaptation strategy, how many emissions that city produces, and more. Of the 596 cities the nonprofit ranked, it only publicly disclosed the cities that got an A.

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New map shows all the cities leading the world in climate action

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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Just as it is now, Fifth Avenue has long been home to expensive shops drawing not only wealthy New Yorkers, but moneyed visitors. In 1916, when the shop merchants in the Fifth Avenue Association voiced concerns about congestion and declining land values affecting their profits, New York City introduced zoning as a legal apparatus. It was a new concept.

The merchants felt that their land values would be affected by the tall skyscrapers being built near Fifth Avenue to house the garment industry. And they didn’t want the people working in the garment industry to mix with their wealthy shoppers. Zoning’s beginnings had a lot to do with the exclusion of low-income people from certain areas of the city, and in the intervening century, zoning has continued to be used to confine low-income people and people of color to particular areas of a city.

Environmental hazards like hazardous waste facilities, fossil fuel storage, and transportation sites, and other polluting industrial facilities are disproportionally located in communities of color and low-income communities. But a new report from The New School’s Tishman Environment and Design Center shows how tools to enact environmental justice can come from the toolbox of injustice.

The report notes that, “examples of racial zoning are ubiquitous in planning history.” These same local zoning codes and land-use policies are now being used to address both existing and future pollution sources concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color. The report’s authors write: “If zoning and land use policies got us into this mess, they have the potential to get us out of it.”

So, what are these policies that promote environmental justice and where are they being implemented?

Bans on specific land uses and industries

In 1910, Baltimore, Maryland, became the first U.S. city to pass a residential segregation ordinance. After a 1917 Supreme Court ruling against racial segregation in housing, Baltimore employed other strategies to “exclude people of color from the financial benefits of homeownership,” according to the report. These actions laid the groundwork for today’s racial disparities in the city. In 2018, environmental justice advocates, including local neighborhood groups and national environmental groups with local chapters, successfully pushed for a ban on new crude oil terminals in Baltimore. Although federal law doesn’t allow municipalities to completely regulate commercial rail traffic, Baltimore was able to use its jurisdiction over land use and zoning for the city’s ban.

Baltimore is one of six cities (Chicago, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and Whatcom County are the others) that the report identifies as prohibiting outright certain land uses and industries determined to be harmful for public health and the environment. Although locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) are often associated with residents trying to guard property values and “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) sentiment, the report argues that, in communities which face environmental injustice, LULUs “take on a wholly different meaning in the context of structural racism, patterns of uneven development” as well as the disproportionate impacts from pollution.

Broad environmental justice programs

New York City, San Francisco, and Fulton County, Georgia, have all enacted broad environmental justice policies and programs, the study’s authors find.

In 2000, San Francisco launched an environmental justice program. Since then it has earmarked more than $12 million in grants for local community projects serving environmental justice areas, and allocated resources to address health inequities, air quality, and renewable and efficient energy.

New York City’s policies, adopted in 2017, required a study of environmental justice areas and established an interagency group to create an environmental justice plan.

And in 2010, Fulton County started an environmental justice initiative that resulted in policies requiring the health impact on minority and low-income populations to be considered in decisions about land use planning and zoning.

Environmental review processes

Most municipalities already have processes, through planning and zoning boards, in which they review new development or expansion proposals. However, not all cities consider the effect of these development proposals on vulnerable or historically overburdened communities as part of the process.

Fulton County, Georgia; San Francisco, California; Camden and Newark, New Jersey; and Boston University have processes in place to review at least some types of new development through an environmental justice lens.

Proactive planning

Some cities also further environmental justice proactively through comprehensive plans (also called general plans, master plans, or land-use plans) that guide future development and establish new standards. Eugene, Oregon; National City, California; Washington, D.C.; and Fulton County, Georgia, all used their comprehensive plans or master plans to devise goals for working toward environmental justice. For example, in 2011, Washington, D.C. added a section in their comprehensive plan with policies that aim to protect all communities from “disproportionate exposure” to hazards as the city grows.

Seattle’s Public Utility Agency, which has significant land assets in historically overburdened communities, worked to make targeted investments to lessen pollution in these areas. And Los Angeles, California, used the concept of “green zones” in a 2016 policy called Clean Up Green Up Ordinance, establishing a Clean Up Green Up district within Boyle Heights, Pacoima/Sun Valley, and Wilmington, where the city applies more strict development standards for new construction and works to reduce negative health impacts. In 2017, Minneapolis, Minnesota, put forth a city council resolution aimed at green zones in order to improve heath and promote sustainable economic development.

Targeting existing land uses and public health codes

Although the above approaches are helpful for furthering environmental justice in future development, they don’t typically apply to existing land uses harmful to public health and the environment.

Huntington and National City, California; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission all have policies targeting existing land uses. For example, National City grappled for a long time with “an excess of polluting industries due to mixed-use industrial and residential zoning,” according to the report. Now, National City has an amortization ordinance, which phases out industries near sensitive areas and includes a process for relocating businesses.

Additionally, San Francisco and Richmond, California; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Erie, Colorado have all used public health codes to protect people from air pollutants. San Francisco, for instance, passed a public health code article in 2014 that strengthened ventilation requirements in buildings within air pollution exposure zones.

The report also notes that when it comes to decisions about where pollution and environmental hazards are located, it’s mostly up to local governments. “This localization of efforts opened up the opportunity to hold local leaders and agencies more accountable,” the authors write. “The insights gained from these policies will fuel a new era of environmental justice policies taking a holistic approach to achieving environmental justice.”

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Which cities have concrete strategies for environmental justice?

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The town that extended ‘smart growth’ to its water

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As with so many towns in the West, the history of Westminster, Colorado, can be told through its water supply.

The turning point in that history was the hot, dry summer of 1962. Westminster was already embroiled in a debate over where to source its water when a drought choked the small city, forcing officials to impose a sprinkler ban. Soon enough, residents noticed that the water trickling from their taps was slightly discolored and didn’t smell right. The desperate city had started drawing water from the Kershaw Ditch, a pool it had recently abandoned over treatment issues.

Although the city said the water was “safe, but stinky,” fed-up local mothers were convinced it would make their children sick and raised hell. In what became known as the “Mothers’ March,” more than 100 women gathered at city hall to protest the city’s water management. City-council meetings were disrupted by protesters who would shout questions through open windows, and the mothers flogged petitions on street corners. They attracted enough attention that Dan Rather did a segment on the protests for CBS News.

The events of that summer ensured that water would become Westminster’s defining issue for years to come, until the city struck a deal with local farmers to share water from the artificial Standley Lake. But even with its supply settled, Westminster continued to focus on taming demand, most recently with a conservation and planning approach that’s become a regional model for managing growth without straining resources.

“Starting from such an uncomfortable place, we’ve kept our eyes on the prize,” said Stu Feinglas, who retired last year as Westminster’s senior water-resources analyst. “Sustainable development and sustainable water.”

Feinglas, who started with the city in 2001 (as another drought gripped northeast Colorado), approached the problem holistically, with a data-driven approach that has become influential for other cities in the West. By merging the city’s land-use plans with water data, Feinglas and colleagues ensured that Westminster wouldn’t run dry, even as its population boomed from less than 10,000 at the time of the water protests to 113,000 today. The surrounding county was even water-healthy enough to support Colorado’s first two water slides as part of the Water World theme park.

The state’s population is expected to keep growing — as much as 70 percent by 2040. At the same time, climate change is fueling persistent droughts. In 2018, parts of nine Western states, including Colorado, were in severe or extreme drought, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Conservation measures have helped many Western cities decouple population growth from water use, but that approach often puts the burden on businesses and residents to be more efficient. Taking a demand-focused approach to water from the earliest stages of planning is still rare, said Erin Rugland, a junior fellow at the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy in Phoenix.

“There’s always been a way to engineer around it,” Rugland said. “It’s been feasible to find a new supply. But I think we’re starting to reach a turning point.”

The recent sustained drought — which has left the critical storage facilities Lake Powell and Lake Mead at their lowest levels since they were being filled — has cemented the idea that Western states are going to have to try to do more with less water. On April 8, Congress approved a seven-state Drought Contingency Plan, which lays out shared cuts if supplies continue to stay low.

The plan builds on 2007 guidelines that helped manage the early years of the drought; now states, tribes, agriculture groups, and cities are negotiating a new set of guidelines set to take effect in 2026. Previous agreements have hit agriculture hard, since the industry is by far the biggest water user in the West, but most everyone agrees that the 2026 guidelines will require some sacrifices from cities, even as they grow as economic engines.

That’s where Feinglas thinks his approach — which current Westminster officials are sticking with — needs to become the norm.

Using Westminster’s comprehensive plan, which zones parcels for general use like multifamily housing or retail, Feinglas made a rough estimate of how much water each type of building would use. Then the city built GIS software that overlays water resources and infrastructure over the comprehensive plan — making it easy to see, for example, how much water a proposed strip mall might use.

It’s a step up from the typical water-per-capita measure that most cities rely on, which doesn’t reflect the fact that denser developments are typically more water-efficient than a single-family house with a green lawn. It also, Feinglas said, helps planners guide developers to smarter construction, even previewing what their water rates and tap fees might be.

“We didn’t want public works to determine how the city developed. We wouldn’t be the ones to say no,” Feinglas said. “What we could do is show how much water we have and ask them to be creative and make their development work with that.”

That meant city planners could identify where it might make more sense to zone for multifamily housing, or see where new pipes might be necessary. Developers could amend their permits to include more low-flow toilets or water recycling. On rare occasions, proposals have been scrapped because they’d need more water than the city could supply. Essentially, Westminster is planning for the worst, making sure that another drought won’t force anyone to turn off the taps.

It seems straightforward, and more or less mirrors what cities have been doing for years to align transportation and transit demand with new construction. But only a handful of other cities — notably Flagstaff, Arizona — have made it work.

“It requires operating between the silos of water management and planning, two disciplines that don’t have a lot of common language,” Rugland said. “Efforts for collaboration would have to be on top of day-to-day duties.”

Also, water data isn’t always easy to come by, especially on a lot-by-lot basis that breaks it down by business type. It’s even tougher for cities that draw their water from multiple sources, who may keep data in different forms (California, for instance, had to pass a law in 2016 requiring that the various state and local agencies be able to share their water data).

More states and cities are trying to make the water-land link. Colorado’s Water Plan calls for 75 percent of citizens to live in communities that have integrated water conservation into land use by 2025, and the state’s water conservation board has guidance to help local governments (the Keystone Policy Center has also held a dialogue with state and local partners). Arizona has a law that requires local jurisdictions to include available water supply and demand as part of a comprehensive plan, but not necessarily to make the link to planning (government cuts reduced state oversight for those comprehensive plans, as well). New software tools, like Razix Solutions, offer off-the-shelf guidance for local officials.

Ultimately, Feinglas said, the model requires city departments to talk to each other and plan for the worst, even if it means some short-term pain. “We know water is valuable, especially now,” Feinglas said. “The last thing you want is to lose your economy because you can’t supply your citizens.”

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The town that extended ‘smart growth’ to its water

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New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained

This story has been updated.

As the rest of the country continues to go back and forth over the possibility of a nationwide Green New Deal, New York City is forging ahead with its own version. The Climate Mobilization Act passed the city council on Thursday with a vote of 45 to 2 amidst cheers and applause from those inside the chambers.

The bundle of 10 bills will keep the city in line with emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.*

“This package of bills will be the single largest carbon reduction effort in any city, anywhere, not just New York City, that has been put forward,” said Committee for Environmental Protection Chair Costa Constantinides in a committee hearing the morning of the vote. “By our calculations, it will result in the equivalent of taking more than one million cars off the road by 2030.” Proponents of the legislation say it will have a significant impact on air quality in the city, which has higher than the national average asthma rates and create thousands of new middle-class jobs for the city.

Making big changes to meet climate goals in New York City is tricky because so much of the city’s day-to-day operation–from public transportation to water, even its ability to ban plastic bags — is controlled by the state government. By focusing largely on local building standards, the city has been able to carve out green legislation within its jurisdiction.

The act’s pièce de résistance is a bill that requires many of city’s buildings to significantly slash their carbon emissions starting in 2024, reducing overall emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Buildings are responsible for almost 70 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2017 estimate. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability estimates upgrades needed to meet the act’s emissions caps would cost building owners around $4 billion, according to the New York Times. The measure was vehemently opposed by the real estate industry, which argued the bill is costly, unrealistic and puts an unfair burden on the owners of buildings not exempted from the law.

New York’s powerful real estate lobby has been fighting energy-efficient building legislation as far back as 2009 when then-Mayor Bloomberg proposed a similar rule. So in a city where the real estate industry so often gets its way, today’s vote really stands out.

But the times are a’changing, and even skeptical New Yorkers (and potential 2020 presidential candidates) like Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently called the act “very aggressive,” have come around in support of the measure. “Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City, and making buildings more sustainable and efficient is a key part of the solution,” said de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability via email. “Protecting New Yorkers from climate change is not optional.”

What does the act do?

The act consists of 10 bills which aim to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in a myriad of ways. Some of the standouts:

  1. A bill that requires the city to conduct a feasibility study by 2021 looking at closing the city’s 24 gas- and oil-fueled power plants in favor of renewable sources and batteries to store excess energy. The study would be revisited every four years.
  2. Green roofs on new and smaller buildings: two bills in the package stipulate that roofs should be covered in plants, solar panels, mini wind turbines or some combination of the three. Green roofs help filter pollutants and add agricultural space in cities.
  3. The final resolution of the package calls upon the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to deny the Water Quality Certification permit for the Williams Pipeline, which is proposed to bring fracked natural gas from Pennsylvania to the New York. Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York in 2014, but proponents say the pipeline is necessary to meet the growing demand for natural gas, and that it will facilitate a city-mandated transition away from using dirtier oil for heating.
  4. It wasn’t voted on today, but an additional measure to convert all school buses to electric within 20 years was also included in the package, part of New York City’s goal to switch all public buses to electric by 2040. The council expects to vote on this bill by Earth day.

But the meatiest (veggiest?) bill of the bunch is unofficially known as the “Dirty Buildings Bill.” It requires around 50,000 of the city’s buildings to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 by installing new windows, insulation and other retrofits to become more energy efficient. The legislation targets buildings over 25,000 square feet, which make up just 2 percent of the city’s real estate but account for about half of all building emissions. If landlords fail to meet targets, they will be forced to pay a fine of up to millions of dollars per year. Some of the guilty buildings will include Trump Tower, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and 15 Central Park West.

Not every edifice will have to scramble to make energy-efficient updates. Non-profits, hospitals, religious sites, rent-controlled housing and residential buildings of four stories or less are exempted from the bill in various ways. The legislation also creates a low-interest energy loan program to help building owners get funding to make these green improvements. Councilmember Constantinides said that they designed the loans so that, most loan recipients should see a net gain after all is said and done after factoring in the cost savings from improved energy efficiency.

Who stands to benefit?

Well, the earth, naturally. But people-wise, NYC is hoping the construction work involved in the building overhaul bill will benefit the city’s shrinking middle class while simultaneously improving public health.

“By 2030, this bill will create 26,700 green jobs, and will prevent 43 premature deaths and 107 Emergency Room visits annually by 2030,” the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability wrote in an email to Grist.

A study by New York Working Families and the non-profit ALIGN NY found that the new laws would create 23,627 “direct construction jobs” implementing the retrofits, and 16,995 “indirect jobs” like building operation and maintenance jobs, manufacturing and professional services per year until 2030.

“We wanted to ensure legislation that tackled both climate change and inequality,” said Peter Sikora, the climate and inequality campaigns director with grassroots organization New York Communities for Change. “You can’t fight climate change on the backs of poor people of color, that’s not right.”

The bill looking at phasing out oil- and gas-fueled power plants could have a significant impact on air quality neighborhoods where existing plants are located. Many of the city’s power plants are in low-income areas, where local residents suffer from pollution.

Who put up a fight?

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are among the biggest energy users among New York City buildings over 25,000 feet. Before the act passed, hospital representatives were seeking a total exemption from the “Dirty Buildings Bill” rules — but they were ultimately denied.

Hospitals are among the biggest energy users among buildings over 25,000 feet. . “Hospitals, in all fairness, are unusual because they’re 24-hour operations and have federal rules” such as replacing their indoor air a certain number of times per day, Sikora said. Still, “It’s ironic that healthcare institutions were lobbying against anti-pollution requirements.”

Although hospitals didn’t receive the full exemption from the new laws, they are being held to the lowest standard allowed by the “Dirty Buildings” bill, meaning they’ll still have to cut emissions, but not on the same timeline or to the same extent as other facilities.

What’s next?

Back to the power plant bill: Once the feasibility study is completed, what will be the next steps to start shutting down these pollution-spewing energy generators? There aren’t any guarantees or safeguards built into the legislation to say how, or when, the city council will use the study’s findings to begin divesting from the dirty fuel or shutting down power plants impacting lower-income communities.“The City Council will continue its work to move away from fossil fuel and into more renewable energy sources,” a spokesperson for New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Grist.

Sikora agreed that the city’s Green New Deal plans are fuzzy for now. “There are loads of details and implementation issues and administrative actions and financing mechanisms that need to take place moving forward,” he said.

The fate of the Williams Pipeline also remains to be seen. Even though the Climate Mobilization Act includes a resolution condemning the pipeline, it’s still largely up to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation, which has until May 16 to issue a key water certification that’d allow construction to begin this year. Even as environmental advocates celebrated New York’s Green New Deal vote, some participants peeled off for a march in protest of the fracked gas pipeline.

*This story previously stated that New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio signed the Climate Mobilization Act on Thursday. According to his spokesperson, he has not yet signed it, but will in the near future.

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New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained

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Mozambique braces for ‘extremely dangerous’ Cyclone Idai

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A major port city on the coast of southeast Africa is bracing for a direct hit from a powerful tropical cyclone — in a situation the World Meteorological Organization has called a “potential worst case scenario.”

Cyclone Idai is targeting Beira, Mozambique, a booming city of about 500,000 people. The storm packs sustained winds of 115 mph and threatens a month’s worth of rainfall for an already waterlogged region — the makings of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Meteorologists have called the conditions “extremely dangerous.” So far, blurry social media videos during landfall convey eerie sounds of wind and rain and crashing metal.

In Mozambique and neighboring Malawi, 122 people have died in cyclone-related rains according to a U.N. briefing issued on Thursday, making Idai the deadliest extreme weather event on Earth so far in 2019. More than a million people have already been directly affected by the disaster.

U.N. officials have spent much of the week preparing communities for the worst, which may still be ahead. Government authorities in Mozambique have ordered a coastal evacuation and raised the national alert level to “institutional code red,” its highest state of emergency.

Idai is the strongest tropical cyclone — the generic meteorological term for a hurricane or typhoon — to approach Mozambique since 2000, and the strongest to affect Beira in at least 56 years.

In Beira, residents have been working for years to prepare for a storm like Idai, building retention ponds for floodwaters and trying to focus the city’s growth on higher elevation neighborhoods. But Mozambique is one of the most disaster-prone countries in Africa, and climate change is increasing the severity of flooding events there — as it is nearly everywhere.

That, in combination with the fact that 40 percent of the city lies just three feet or less above sea level, means that Idai could be a huge disaster. In the days before landfall, meteorologists predicted Idai’s storm surge could be as high as 26 feet.

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Mozambique braces for ‘extremely dangerous’ Cyclone Idai

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