Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Workers urged to go to office ahead of Hurricane Ian

Two unidentified girls walk through the flooded streets of Everglades City, Fla., after Hurricane Wilma blew through Monday, Oct. 24, 2005. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

As Hurricane Ian headed toward Tampa, Fla., this week — the first major storm to threaten the area in a century — at least one company urged employees to come to work, and bring their children and pets.

The chief executive of a local marketing company insisted she wasn’t scared, Vice reported, even as Pinellas County — home to its headquarters, based in Clearwater — ordered some evacuations starting Monday.

“If you want to leave your home and you’re being told to leave your home, and you feel like you should and you have no place to go, [Postcardmania] is probably the safest place to be in Florida,” Postcardmania CEO Joy Gendusa reportedly told employees on Monday.

Gendusa downplayed the likely impacts of the hurricane, telling employees that she wanted “to continue to deliver” and “have a good end of quarter,” Vice reported, citing a copy of minutes from a staff meeting that it obtained.

“And when [the hurricane] turns into nothing, I don’t want it to be like, ‘Great, we all stopped producing because of the media and the maybe that it was going to be terrible,’” she added. 

As the hurricane approached, bringing clearer signs it would make landfall as a major storm, the company’s public relations team appeared to be in damage control mode.

“Our office is closed Wednesday and Thursday,” the company told Vice, adding it was incorrect to say the company’s head told employees to work through the hurricane.

“We have some employees voluntarily working remote who are safely located in non-evacuation zones. Our building is open as a shelter during the hurricane for staff, friends, children and pets. We did this during Irma as well,” the company added.

Postcardmania did not immediately respond to a request for further comment Wednesday evening.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll follow the first major hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland this season — and the continuing recovery from last week’s island-hopping Hurricane Fiona. Then we’ll see why Europe is bracing for open energy conflict with Russia.

Hurricane Ian comes ashore 

A Caribbean Sea warmed by climate change has boosted Hurricane Ian to Category 4 status — just in time for its collision with the Florida mainland on Wednesday afternoon.  

With days of heavy wind and rain forecast, the hurricane could sow widespread financial disaster for a state where the flood insurance program is already on the brink of collapse. 

Wind and rain: Powerful winds lashed Florida’s southwest coast on Wednesday afternoon as Ian’s eye came ashore, according to the National Hurricane Center. 

The Center warned about the scope of the potential dangers in a series of tweets:

  • Sustained winds blew at 150 miles per hour as Ian came ashore near Fort Myers, Fla., according to the center. 
  • Areas like Daytona Beach — while away from the immediate center — are at risk for tornadoes
  • Ian will pose severe flooding risks to central Florida on Wednesday and the Southeastern U.S. for the next several days.

A damaging tour: The hurricane is expected to make a slow, destructive passage across central Florida over the next 24 hours before swinging out to sea, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA). 

Forecasts then show the system hugging the coast before cutting inland, entering South Carolina on Friday night and Virginia or Tennessee by Saturday morning, NOAA reported. 

Federal assistance: President Biden issued an emergency declaration over the weekend, allowing federal resources to be used to respond to the storm.

Biden also spoke by phone on Tuesday with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other local leaders to emphasize federal support for the state, the White House said.

FISH KILLS AND INSURANCE DEFAULTS 

More than a million Florida homes are at risk of damage from the storm, according to MarketWatch. 

But in addition to the usual threats posed by wind and waves, Florida has two unique areas of liability in the face of Ian. 

Mining liabilities: The storm poses a particular pollution risk to Florida because of the state’s large fertilizer mining industry, The Associated Press reported. 

Phosphate mining has left more than a billion tons of mining waste in two dozen “stacks” — open air ponds — across the state, according to the AP. 

  • “A major storm event like the one we are bracing for can inundate the facilities with more water than the open-air ponds can handle,” attorney Ragan Whitlock at the Center for Biological Diversity told the AP. 
  • A March 2021 leak from one such stack released about 215 million gallons of waste into Tampa Bay, causing “massive fish kills.” 

Weak insurance: Wind and flooding from Ian is expected to deal out up to $35 billion in property damage, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

  • Only 13 percent of Florida residents have flood insurance. 
  • Florida’s insurance industry has been collectively losing money for five years — and was on track to be short by $1 billion even before Ian hit.

Unstable and getting worse: “Florida’s property insurance market was the most volatile in the U.S. before Hurricane Ian formed and will most likely become even more unstable in the wake of the storm,” Mark Friedlander of Florida’s Insurance Information Institute told NBC News.

Energy woes follow September hurricanes

Millions of people across three islands off the North American mainland — Cuba, Puerto Rico and Nova Scotia — remain without power in the aftermath of two powerful hurricanes. 

Facing the dark: Cuba was slowly recovering on Tuesday from the island-wide blackouts that Hurricane Ian dealt to the island’s beleaguered Soviet-era grid, Reuters reported. 

The region had already endured substantial damage from last week’s Hurricane Fiona even before Ian hit, Reuters reported.

  • About 349,000 people in Puerto Rico are still without power. 
  • Around 104,000 Canadians in Nova Scotia remain without power as well. 

Demand for fuel: Puerto Rico is calling on the Biden administration to allow a British Petroleum tanker ship to dock and deliver its cargo of diesel fuel, NBC reported.

  • The fuel is much needed by the island’s generators — but delivering it would violate the Jones Act, which requires shipments between U.S. ports to be carried out by U.S. crews on domestically-built ships. 
  • Biden has not responded to Puerto Rico’s petition to waive the Jones Act, which has occurred during previous storms, according to the AP. 

EU: ‘Robust response’ to alleged pipeline sabotage

European Union officials pledged a “robust and united response” to any deliberate disruption of the bloc’s energy infrastructure — a day after two Russian gas pipelines ruptured in the Baltic Sea. 

An ‘unacceptable’ disruption: “All available information indicates leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a Twitter statement on Wednesday. 

  • Borrell stressed that such damages are “not a coincidence and affects us all.” 
  • “Deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response,” he added. 

What happened in the Baltic? European authorities on Monday evening detected unexplained leaks in Russia’s shuttered Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which served to convey natural gas to Europe via Germany.  

  • The ruptures had no immediate effect on European energy supplies, as neither pipeline was in use. 
  • Germany froze Nord Stream 2 in February due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow halted flows via Nord Stream 1 several weeks ago.  
  • But experts expressed concern about the resultant environmental pollution from the leaks, which occurred following multiple blasts recorded by area seismologists.  

U.S. agrees on ‘apparent sabotage’: While multiple countries situated near the pipelines pointed to sabotage early on Tuesday, the Biden administration initially declined to speculate on the cause of the leaks, our colleague Zach Schonfeld reported for The Hill.

But by Tuesday evening, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with their counterparts in Denmark about the pipeline leaks. Both of their offices then released statements describing the events as “apparent sabotage.” 

EU sharpens message: On Wednesday morning, the EU followed up with a statement stressing that it is “deeply concerned about damage to the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.” 

  • “We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security,” the statement said.  
  • In Germany, meanwhile, security agencies expressed fears that the Nord Stream pipelines could be destroyed forever, according to the German-language daily Der Tagesspiegel.   

What does Moscow say? In response to claims that Russia might be behind the pipeline ruptures, a Kremlin spokesman dismissed any such possibility as “predictably stupid,” on a daily conference call covered by Reuters.  

To hear from analysts why the Nord Stream leaks could be “the final straw” in the Russia-Europe energy conflict, please click here for the full story.

200M pounds of toxins dumped in US waterways

Polluters in just 10 states were responsible for more than half of the 193.6 million pounds of contaminants released into U.S. waterways in 2020, a new report has found.  

A pervasive problem: Toxic discharge flowed into 1 in every 3 local watersheds across the country, according to the findings, which were published three weeks ahead of the Clean Water Act’s 50th anniversary. 

  • Environment America Research & Policy Center released the report together with the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups Education Fund. 
  • Their analysis is based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, which includes surface water discharges self-reported by polluters.  

Some states were worse than others: The authors found that such contamination is heavily concentrated in 10 states.  

  • The top offenders included Texas, Indiana, Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, according to the report.   
  • Of the nation’s major watersheds, the Ohio River basin received the largest volume of toxic discharge by weight in 2020.  

Toxicity versus weight: Sorting chemical releases according to toxicity levels, rather than by weight, Wisconsin, Texas and Virginia landed in the top offending spots.  

The Ohio River, the Great Lakes and the Texas-Gulf were the most toxic watersheds. 

Specific health impacts: Facilities dumped more than 1 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals — such as arsenic, chromium and benzene — into the country’s waterways, the authors found.  

  • The Austin-Oyster watershed in Texas received the biggest volume of carcinogens.  
  • More than 200,000 pounds of chemicals that potentially cause reproductive issues were discharged in 2020, with Texas, Indiana and Pennsylvania faring the worst in this category.  
  • Nitrates — which are linked to health risks and contribute to dead zones and toxic algal outbreaks — were responsible for more than 90 percent of toxic releases by weight.  

To read more details in the analysis and see the report’s recommendations, please click here for the full story.  

Water Wednesday

Cannabis growers turn to illegal irrigation, tiny helpers aid in chemical cleanup and rural Arizona counties face a thirsty threat. 

Some California cannabis growers using illegal water resources 

  • More than 70 percent of all cannabis operations located in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, near Santa Barbara, are illegally using surface water amid a statewide drought, the Santa Barbara News-Press reported, citing an investigation from a local law office. Of the 31 cannabis sites along the Santa Ynez River surveyed, 22 appeared to be pumping and irrigating illegally, according to the News-Press. 

‘Water fleas’ could help manage waterway pollution  

Out-of-state farms exploit Arizona water 

  • Corporate agriculture is “arguably squandering“ Arizona’s groundwater, putting the future of many rural counties at risk, former Democratic state lawmaker Tom Prezelski wrote in an opinion piece for Arizona Central. To ensure their survival, counties must have more authority to control development or water use, Prezelski argued. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.


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