Rebuilding Green for All: Climate Change Adaptation and Green Affordable Redevelopment Post-Disaster

Sean Wright, B.A. from Miami University; M.A. from Ohio State University, John Glenn School of Public Affairs; J.D. from Ohio State University Mortiz College of Law. Sean is currently a Judicial Clerk for Judge Beryl A. Howell, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

I. Introduction

            Hurricane Sandy touched land in October 2012, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The National Hurricane Center attributed seventy-two deaths in the United States to the storm, which caused nearly fifty billion dollars in damage.[1] Sandy is now known as “the largest tropical system in history in the Atlantic Basin.”[2] Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes, and increased flooding have dominated the news for the past decade. Seemingly, the scope of disaster has increased. Indeed, Hurricane Katrina is still considered the most expensive natural disaster in our history, with damages ranging from $100 billion to $200 billion.[3]Climate change has impacted the size and ferocity of natural disasters.[4]

Unsurprisingly, several jurisdictions, while developing their disaster response programs, have included responding to climate change in their programs.[5] This requires “action . . . to lessen the severity of the impacts and to prepare for what is inevitable.”[6] Devoting resources to climate change adaptation is necessary. Overall, two major lessons have been learned from the process of adapting to climate change. First, green redevelopment must be included in a post-disaster redevelopment plans.[7] Second, as we begin to plan on how to respond to climate change, it is important to remember that these impacts will fall unevenly throughout society.[8] At the same time, there is a dearth of quality affordable housing in the United States.[9]Combined with “[t]he prospect of more frequent and more extreme exceptional weather events, engendered by climate change, [this] further exacerbates the housing affordability crisis.”[10] Thus, developing a plan that both encourages energy efficient redevelopment and keeps communities inclusive and affordable is a unique—and under considered—challenge.

This will require creative thinking about refocusing adaptation plans. This Essay suggests two important changes: (1) improve and expand green affordable housing in post-disaster areas, and (2) reshape the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to support energy efficient and affordable communities.

II. Climate Change Adaptation and Post-Disaster Redevelopment

            Since the emergence of climate change as a policy concern, much of the focus on responding has been to mitigate—or reduce—humanities impact on the climate.[11]Unfortunately, due “to the global and cumulative nature of GHG [Greenhouse gases] emissions, mitigation measures will not yield tangible climate benefits for many years, and those benefits will not be especially local.”[12]  Instead, the harmful effects of climate change will increase.[13] Mitigation alone will not be sufficient. It has become apparent that adaption must be an integral component of a comprehensive approach to climate change. Adaptation “is the term used to describe the efforts to moderate, cope with, and prepare for the current and anticipated impacts of climate change on the human and natural systems.”[14]

Adaptation is necessary to prepare for and respond to increasingly intense natural disasters. Climate change has directly impacted the size and ferocity of storms. In fact, “[a]ll weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”[15] Moreover, adaptation must occur at the local level. This is because “in this brave new world of climate change adaptation, there will be no panacea—‘one size fits all’ solutions to environmental problems.”[16] While recent congressional debate over climate change has sought to integrate adaptation strategies into climate change proposals—adaptation continues to take a back seat to mitigation strategies.[17]

To maximize adaptation strategies, it is essential to understand what areas and systems are most at-risk.[18] In the context of natural disasters, the anticipated impacts of projected climate conditions are varied. While there will be major impacts across the globe, this will occur with significant variation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) predicts that due to climate change and rising sea levels, many millions more people will experience severe flooding by the 2080s.[19] This heightens the risk for “those densely populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and that already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence.”[20] Additionally, infrastructure, ecosystems, and economic losses are likely to occur from climate change. Adaptive strategies are needed to prevent these impacts and to help rebuild after disaster.

Importantly, “long-term recovery is considered the weaker link in the recovery picture…and it is the most important to climate change adaptation.”[21] Without advanced climate change planning, many post-disaster communities may return to pre-disaster community planning—remaining vulnerable to the next significant impact. Therefore, it is important for communities to consider what strategies are needed after disaster to rebuild more resilient and secure communities.

III. Green Redevelopment as Part of a Holistic Adaptive Strategy

            There are many ways to ensure communities are prepared cope with climate impacts. Professor Ian Burton has developed various categories of options to address climate change. These include, sharing the loss through buying insurance, modifying climate events, preventing the events, and changing use and location of vulnerable areas.[22] Importantly, “climate change will have a significant impact on the built environment and will likely require major changes in the way that buildings are constructed and operated.”[23] An important approach in adapting to stronger natural disasters while simultaneously mitigating our climate impact is green housing development. This section will describe green housing and its role in responding to natural disasters.

1. Requiring Effective Green Housing Development is Key

Green building is an essential feature of climate change adaptation policy. Overall, “[g]reening the housing stock combines strategies to achieve greater efficiency in the use of energy, water, and other natural resources in the building itself, but also an array of other considerations, such as the use and disposal of building materials.”[24]To encourage sustainable building, private-public partnerships have developed around various green standards. For example, “jurisdictions are beginning to implement the private Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The success of LEED could be enhanced by measures that take into account seismic resilience, regional water variability, and new efficiency/energy innovations to a greater degree.”[25] Moreover, Federal, state and local governments also offer tax incentives to offset of the upfront cost associated with green development.[26]

Developing green homes can directly reduce the amount of GHGs emitted—mitigating climate change. Green homes are useful because they can save you thousands in utility bills and make your home a healthier and more comfortable place to live. Green homes save money with energy-saving features such as effective insulation, high-performance windows, tight construction, and efficient heating and cooling equipment and appliances.[27]

In response to the clear need for sustainable standards, President Obama has encouraged the Federal Government to take an active role in tackling climate change by requiring Federal agencies to set 2020 GHGs emissions reduction target that includes increase energy efficiency; the conservation of water, and supporting sustainable communities.[28]

Through Executive Order 13,514, the President has prioritized green development. In the context of disaster relief and redevelopment, that means that localities receiving Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) are required to attain green building standards.[29] This includes a variety of standards.[30] Responding to Hurricane Sandy, both New York and New Jersey have attempted to incorporate green redevelopment.[31] In New York, homes that have not sustained substantial damages are still required to meet the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) green retrofitting checklist.[32] Additionally, there is a renewed focus on mitigation strategies—such as increasing the elevation of units in high flood risk areas. These steps help to ensure sustainable communities develop after disaster.

2. Green Redevelopment Must Use the Most Sustainable Designs

While the CDBG-DR program has provided states the flexibility to achieve green redevelopment, a new focus on the best design practices is essential. While not the norm in the green building community, passive survivability design presents an ideal model to base post-disaster redevelopments efforts. Passive survivability is a new design criterion for buildings that can “maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages, interruptions of fuel supply, or loss of water and sewer services .”[33] Based upon decades of work on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and historical building designs such as “wide-open and well-ventilated ‘dog-trot’ homes of the Deep South . . . [and] the high-mass adobe buildings of the American Southwest,”[34]developing survivable homes is not a reach. Overall, requiring green redevelopment is an important first step in responding to disaster. However, advancing our notions of survivable homes is necessary to develop resilient communities.

IV. Ensuring Climate Resilient Communities Remain Affordable

            While a good deal of focus on post-disaster redevelopment has included green housing, little attention has been placed on ensuring that rebuilt communities are green and affordable. This is a significant oversight. Importantly, “[g]reen affordable housing is especially important in the context of the disproportionate effects that low-wealth households experience from environmental degradation.”[35] In fact, low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, with climate change increasing the vulnerabilities for these communities.[36]Many redevelopment projects aimed at improving urban spaces include sustainable development as an important goal. However, whether the benefits of these redevelopment projects are equitably shared with the original members of the community remains to be seen. Truly coping with climate impacts requires post-disaster recovery plans to incorporate both energy efficient and affordable redevelopment tools.

As the National Research Council observes, some “population segments are more likely to experience casualties, property damage, psychological impacts, demographic impacts, economic impacts or political impacts—as direct, indirect, or informational effects.”[37]Professor Patricia Salkin has noted that, adequate affordable housing is central to social equity and sustainable development.[38]  Thus, conceptualizing how to ensure green development after a disaster is also affordable advances a primary concern of climate adaptation—how to ensure equity.

Two important policy changes are necessary to ensure affordable green housing. First, green tax credits needs to be a restructured to extend green standards to affordable housing units.[39]Currently, state policies are inconsistent with few the goal of establishing green building requirements. Change would be very achievable. As Kevin Foy has argued, “[o]ne way this might work is to increase the credit based on the number of points a project received in the LEED rating system.”[40] Additionally, the federal government requires green building practices as part of receiving CDBG-Disaster grant funds.[41] Second, the burden of flood insurance on low-income communities needs to be reduced.[42] As part of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (Reform Act), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can increase premiums by twenty-percent annually.[43] This is an attempt to ensure that premiums truly reflect risk of loss.[44] However, this also ensures that redeveloped green homes are not affordable. And, the decision to increase premiums is not necessary—consistent damage from climate impacted flooded will not occur within fifty years.[45] Until then, mitigation steps can be taken to develop affordable and sustainable communities. For example, in New York, communities are required to utilize the mitigation technique of elevation.[46] Other options include emergency flood and evacuation equipment, retrofitting homes with fortified roofs and windows.

V. Conclusion

            The world is changing. The harmful effects of climate change have recently been observed, and without holistic changes in the emission of GHGs, steps are needed to cope with the harmful impacts of climate change. Increasingly intense natural disasters have become a reality. Responding to these disasters requires creative approaches to post-disaster redevelopment. Focusing on green redevelopment can reduce the overall amount of energy used and pollution emitted—mitigating and adapting to climate change. Additionally, ensuring that green redevelopment includes rebuilding affordable communities has been overlooked. Because low-income communities are frequently hit the hardest by natural disasters, strategies are needed to ensure redeveloped communities are both resilient and affordable.

Preferred citation: Sean Wright, Rebuilding Green for All: Climate Change Adaptation and Green Affordable Redevelopment Post-Disaster, LSU J. Energy L. & Res. Currents (November 20, 2013), http://sites.law.lsu.edu/jelrblog/?p=393.


[1] See David Porter, Hurricane Sandy was Second-Costliest in U.S. History, Report Shows, Huff. Post (Feb. 12, 2013, 10:32 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/12/hurricane-sandy-second-costliest_n_2669686.html.

[2] Todd Gutner, Hurricane Sandy Grows to Largest Atlantic Tropical Storm Ever, CBS (Oct. 28, 2012, 10:24 PM), http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/10/28/hurricane-sandy-grows-to-largest-atlantic-tropical-storm-ever/.

[3] See Mark L. Burton & Michael J. Hicks, Hurricane Katrina: Estimates of Commercial and Public Sector Damages (Marshall U. Ctr. for Bus. & Economic Res., September 2005), http://muwww-new.marshall.edu/cber/research/katrina/Katrina-Estimates.pdf (estimating the cost over $150 billion dollars, excluding environmental costs); NOAA, Hurricane Katrina—Most Destructive Hurricane Ever to Strike the U.S., available at http://www.katrina.noaa.gov/.

[4] Noah S. Diffenbaugha, Martin Scherera, & Robert J. Trapp, Robust increases in severe thunderstorm environments in response to greenhouse forcing PNAS (Sept. 23, 2013), http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/09/18/1307758110.full.pdf+html (noting that the study “suggests that continued increases in greenhouse forcing are likely to in- crease severe thunderstorm occurrence”); see also Jayni Hein, Is Hurricane Sandy the Face of Climate Change?, Legal Planet (Oct. 31, 2012), http://legal-planet.org/2012/10/31/is-hurricane-sandy-the-face-of-climate-change/.

[5] See e.g., How Atlantic Communities Are Preparing for Climate Change, Sea Grant (Oct. 2, 2013), http://www.mdsg.umd.edu/news/how-atlantic-communities-are-preparing-climate-change (noting that cities like Ocean City have reformed their building codes to “be located 16.5 feet above sea level in the V zone (flood hazard areas)); Jennifer Pitt, As Climate Change Reduces Colorado River Communities Must Prepare, Nat’l Geo. (March 26, 2013), http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/26/as-climate-change-reduces-colorado-river-communities-must-prepare/ (noting that “San Antonio has reduced per capita water use by 42% since 1994 – well exceeding the goal of a 1% annual decrease in per capita use that cities using Colorado River water reportedly find challenging. Santa Fe took on water conservation with even greater gusto, reducing per capita use by 40% in just ten years. . . .  Salt Lake City found a way to bolster protections for their local water supplies by investing in watershed management.  They accomplished this by adding a surcharge to their water bills.  Ratepayers are charged an additional $1.50 a month, and the money goes to purchase lands and development rights in local watersheds from willing sellers so that they can be managed to increase water supply resiliency.)

[6] Victor B. Flatt, Domestic Disaster Preparedness and Response, in The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects 481 (Michael B. Gerrard & Katrina Fischer Kuh eds., 2013).

[7] See e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Energy, From Tragedy to Triumph—Rebuilding Green Homes after Disaster, available athttp://www1.eere.energy.gov/office_eere/pdfs/45139.pdf.

[8] For background on this problem, see Daniel A. Farber and Jim Chen, Disasters and the Law: Katrina and Beyond 109–160 (2006).

[9] See U.S. Dep’t of Hous. and Urb. Dev., Affordable Housing, available athttp://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/ (“The lack of affordable housing is a significant hardship for low-income households preventing them from meeting their other basic needs, such as nutrition and healthcare, or saving for their future and that of their families.”).

[10] Jacqueline McIntosh, The Implications of Post Disaster Recovery for Affordable Housing, in Approaches to Disaster Management: Examining the Implications of Hazards, Emergencies, and Disasters 205 (John Tiefenbacher ed., 2013).

[11] Michael B. Gerrard, Introduction and Overview, in The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects 3 (Michael B. Gerrard & Katrina Fischer Kuh eds., 2013).

[12] Id.

[13] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis 14 (2007).

[14] Gerrard, supra note 11, at 3.

[15] Kevin E. Trenberth, Framing the Way to Relate to Climate Extremes to Climate Change, 115 Climate Change 283, 289 (2012).

[16] Robin Kudis Craig, “Stationarity is Dead”—Long Live Transformation: Five Principles for Climate Change Adaptation Law, 34 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 9, 16 (2010).

[17] Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne, Climate Change Law and Policy: EU and US Approaches 304 (2010).

[18] This includes what systems will be (1) exposed to climate change, and the (2) sensitivity of those systems, and the relative (3) adaptive capacity of each system to adapt to plausible scenarios of climate change. Climate Change Law and Policy 41 (Hari M. Osofsky & Lesley K. McAllister eds., 2012).

[19] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability 12  (2007).

[20] Gerrard, supra note 11, at 8.

[21] Flatt, supra note 6, at 491.

[22] Ian Burton, The Growth of Adaptation Capacity: Practice and Policy, in Adapting to Climate Change: An International Perspective 55 (Joel B. Smith et al. eds., 1996).

[23] J. Cullen Howe, Buildings, in The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects 209 (Michael B. Gerrard & Katrina Fischer Kuh eds., 2013).

[24] Kevin C. Foy, Home is Where the Health Is: The Convergence of Environmental Justice, Affordable Housing, and Green Building, 30 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 1, 40 (2012).

[25] Elizabeth Burleson, Energy Revolution and Disaster Response in the Face of Climate Change, 22 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 169, 180 (2011).

[26] Robert H. Freilich & Neil M. Popowitz, The Umbrella of Sustainability: Smart Growth, New Urbanism, Renewable Energy and Green Developments in the 21st Century, 42 Urb. Law. 1, 23 (2010).

[27] U.S. Dep’t of Energy, supra note 7.

[28] See Exec. Order No. 13,514, 3 C.F.R. 248 (Oct. 5, 2009).

[29] See Waivers, and Alternative Requirements for Grantees Receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery Funds in Response to Hurricane Sandy, 78 Fed. Reg. 14329, 14333 (March 5, 2013).

[30] For example, “(i)ENERGY STAR (Certified Homes or Multifamily High Rise); (ii) Enterprise Green Communities; (iii) LEED (NC, Homes, Midrise, Existing Buildings O&M, or Neighborhood Development); (iv) ICC–700 National Green Building Standard; (v) EPA Indoor AirPlus (ENERGY STAR a prerequisite); or (vi) any other equivalent comprehensive green building program, including regional programs such as those operated by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority or the New Jersey Clean Energy Program” would all qualify. Id.

[31] See e.g., New York State Homes and Community Renewal Office of Community Renewal, State of New York Action Plan for Community Development Block Grant Program Disaster Recovery (April 3, 2013).

[32] Id. at 40.

[33] Alex Wilson, Passive Survivability: A New Design Criterion for Buildings, 14 Envtl. Building News 12 (2006), http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm/2006/5/3/Passive-Survivability-A-New-Design-Criterion-for-Buildings/.

[34] Id.

[35] Foy, supra note 24, at 3.

[36] Flatt, supra note 6, at 495.

[37] National Research Council, Committee on Disaster Research in the Social Sciences, Facing Hazards and Disasters: Understanding Human Dimensions 73 (2006).

[38]  Patricia E. Salkin, Sustainability and Land Use Planning: Greening State and Local Land Use Plans and Regulations to Address Climate Change Challenges and Preserve Resources for Future Generations, 34 Wm. & Mary Envtl. L. & Pol’y Rev. 121, 131-32 (2009) (discussing importance of affordable housing for sustainable development).

[39] Global Green USA, Making Affordable Housing Truly Affordable 13 (2005).

[40] Foy, supra note 24, at 54.

[41] See supra note 29.

[42] This concern has been poignantly documented after Hurricane Sandy.  See Jenny Anderson, Outrage as Homeowners Prepare for Substantially Higher Flood Insurance Rates, N.Y. Times (July 28, 2013), http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/nyregion/overhaul-and-a-hurricane-have-flood-insurance-rates-set-for-huge-increases.html?ref=nyregion&_r=1&; Matthew Kahn, Benevolent Paternalism or “Tough Love”?: Two Approaches for Adapting to Climate Change, Legal Planet (July 29, 2013), http://legal-planet.org/2013/07/29/benevolent-paternalism-or-tough-love-two-approaches-for-adapting-to-climate-change/.

[43] H.R. 4348, Sec. 100205(h)(2) (amending 42 U.S.C. § 4015(e)).

[44] Sean B. Hecht, Insurance, in The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects 511 (Michael B. Gerrard & Katrina Fischer Kuh eds., 2013).

[45] See Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supra note 19 (predicting significantly flooding by 2080).

[46] Howe, supra note 23, at 223 (including that “buildings must be elevated on pilings, columns, or shear walls.”).

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