Texas is bracing for potentially "catastrophic" flooding as Hurricane Harvey is set to make landfall Friday, and many are raising concerns that given the state's role as the heart of the petrochemical industry, the storm could create a "nightmare situation" for the environment—one that the Trump administration's aggressive deregulatory agenda will only make worse.
"This is an environmental justice issue."
—Judith Enck, former EPA administrator Writing for The New Republic, Emily Atkins highlights the devastating impact Hurricane Sandy—a Category 1 Hurricane—had in several states in 2012, and underlines the fact that Harvey now threatens as a Category 3 storm.
"In the devastating wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, parts of the East Coast were left not only demolished, but polluted," Atkins observes. Wastewater treatment plants lost power and discharged 11 billion gallons of sewage into receiving waters."
Harvey, environmentalists and researchers worry, could be even more devastating—"a huge pollution disaster," Atkins writes. As Reuters reported Friday, oil prices are beginning to surge as the petroleum industry prepares for the hurricane's impact.
Quoting former EPA administrator Judith Enck, Atkins continued:
There is a huge environmental risk to this storm. If the "biblical event" predicted materializes in this densely packed industrial area, "it may impact the Gulf Coast oil refineries and chemical plants," said Judith Enck, who served as administrator for EPA's Region 2 during Hurricane Sandy. "I am extremely concerned about the path of Hurricane Harvey."
Environmental advocates are also worried that Harvey will create long-term public health problems due to accidental toxic substance releases, and not just from refineries and power plants. In the 30 counties where a disaster has been declared, there are dozens of Superfund sites, many of which are essentially waste pits containing harmful chemicals.
"This is an environmental justice issue," Enck argued, underlining the fact that the storm will disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities.
"Even if the president can manage on Friday to curb his theatrics and focus on the storm of the decade, it's unlikely that an environmental disaster will be anywhere near the front of his mind."
—Emily Atkins, The New Republic
These risks are magnified by the Trump administration's deregulatory agenda, which has taken aim at environmental rules designed to protect the public from dangerous pollutants. Adding to these concerns is the fact that there are still numerous vacancies in federal agencies that will be tasked with confronting the hurricane's impact.
As the storm approached Texas Thursday and early Friday, Trump did not see fit to give it much attention, preferring instead to brag about what he views as his administration's achievements, which include the elimination of crucial environmental protections.
Atkins argued that "[e]ven if the president can manage on Friday to curb his theatrics and focus on the storm of the decade, it's unlikely that an environmental disaster will be anywhere near the front of his mind."
"The future impact of Trump's dismal policy agenda—which so far has increased the risk of environmental disaster without increasing disaster preparation—gives us something else to worry about," Atkins concluded.