HEJE Overview 8-29-17: Environment + Illinois Update (Ed bill, Senate vote)

First reports on imminent pollution/toxic materials waste from Texas + Illinois Update (SB 1947 goes to the Illinois Senate for a vote)

  • The smell of burnt rubber—or of a pilot light that’s been lit and then blown out—is now pervasive in East Houston

The most likely source is the area’s petrochemical plants and refineries—some of which shut down operations as of Sunday; when plants cease operation abruptly, they release tons of pollutants into the air.

“Chevron Phillips has already told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that it expects to exceed permitted limits for several hazardous pollutants, such as 1,3-butadiene, benzene and ethylene, during shutdown procedures.”

“Simultaneously, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has shut down to avoid damaging its equipment. “At the same time, TCEQ has shut down all of its air quality monitors in the Houston area to avoid water and wind damage related to the storm. In other words, plants and refineries are being left on the honor system. They can report whatever is emitted, but if they don’t do so, there are not any state air quality monitors running to catch them.”

  • The fact that Houston is the epicenter of the refinery/petrochemical industry hasn’t begun to make the MSM headlines much—this, of course, will be the big story eventually

Amy Goodman’s interview with Bryan Parras, an organizer for the “Beyond Dirty Fuels” campaign with the Sierra Club in Houston, and with Renee Feltz of “Democracy Now” and a Houston native.

Frightening factoid from Goodman’s opening: nine trillion gallons of water—enough to fill the Great Salt Lake twice over—have already poured onto the state, and another 5-10 trillion gallons are still predicted. This could become the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history.

Both the Dallas and Houston convention centers are opening their doors to evacuees already; it is unclear how many people will eventually need shelter, as residents continue to depart their homes and neighborhoods. Current estimates go as high as 30,000. (CNN reporting at 3 am US time that the Houston Convention Center is at nearly double capacity with 9,000 people.)

A bit of geography: Buffalo Bayou, on the west side of Houston, traverses the city and continues east to become the Houston Ship Channel, eventually emptying into Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. On the east side, the bayou is lined for 30-40 miles by countless petrochemical industry-related plants and storage tanks.

Plus, Houston has its very own Superfund underwater site, the San Jacinto Waste Pits, near Baytown and two large refineries owned by Exxon and down the road, Chevron.

“And there was this old legacy pollutants from a paper mill that has sort of just left their toxins in the ground. And eventually, it was flooded. And there it remains. And the EPA and other agencies are in the process of cleaning that up. But as they go through their long, lengthy process of doing that, we have had several rain events. And each time we have a rain event, this contamination is being spread into communities, homes, neighborhoods, and further exposing more and more people.

And we know that we have elevated levels of cancers all along these areas. There have been many reports to show increased rates of childhood leukemia if you live within 2 miles of the Houston Ship Channel, for example. So the information is out there. We know that these chemicals are causing cancers and other life-debilitating ailments to the people who live adjacent to them.”

“…the Houston Ship Channel and refining area receives oil and gas from as far away as the Dakotas. But we also have production in our own state — Permian Basin… So there is oil coming from West Texas. A lot of new fracked oil coming into the area. And of course, there is even oil imported from different parts of the world.”

  • Early on Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing 4,000 cubic feet per second for 6-10 hours from Houston’s two reservoirs, Addicks and Barker west of the city, both of which flow into Buffalo Bayou.

Engineers determined that it would be less destructive to begin releasing water from the overflowing reservoirs (built in the 1940s) through their normal outlets rather than wait for flooding to begin around them; the neighborhoods directly west of the reservoirs are flooding because water is backing up before entering them. The releases—originally scheduled for Monday (Addicks) and Tuesday (Barker) were moved up due to rapidly-increasing water levels. The roadways that crisscross the reservoirs are for the most part already under water, and it is anticipated they will not be back in service for weeks to months.

  • While climate change/global warning did not technically cause Harvey, it has made it appreciably worse; below are five reasons why (1-3 certain; 4-5 possible):One: Higher sea levels allow higher storm surges, thus causing more flooding.
    Two: The increase in surface temperature of the earth by about 1 degree means 3-5% more moisture in the air—so when it rains, it really rains.
    Three: The water in the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than just a few decades ago—and “warm water feeds hurricanes the way anger feeds the Incredible Hulk.”
    Four: “Climate Change contributed to a stronger high pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico, which pushed the jet stream north and allowed Harvey to malinger in Houston’s area instead of being pushed away by strong winds from dry land. The winds were left weakened by the migration north of the Gulf Stream.”
    Five: “Global heating seems to contribute to longer-term stationary weather patterns. Thus, the long-term drought in the US Southwest was exacerbated by this tendency. Harvey might not have stayed where it was so easily without climate change.”

The fact that the EPA no longer refers to climate change by its name doesn’t change the fact that global weather patterns are becoming ever more persistent and intense; “extreme weather” is apparently the new code for the that-which-must-not-be-named.

  • The federal government’s flood insurance program is a failed policy—but not for the reasons one might imagine

Houston is one of the U.S.’s most flood-prone cities; much of the sprawling city, the fourth-largest in the country, lies at or near ground level. Nearly 20 years ago (1998), the National Wildlife Federation released a report entitled “Higher Ground”.

The report “crunched federal data to show that just 2 percent of the program’s insured properties were receiving 40 percent of its damage claims. The most egregious example was a home that had flooded 16 times in 18 years, netting its owners more than $800,000 even though it was valued at less than $115,000.

“That home was located in Houston, along with more than half of America’s worst ‘repetitive loss properties’ identified in the report.”

“Houston’s problem was runaway development in flood-prone areas, accelerated by heavily subsidized federal flood insurance … Congress often discusses fixing flood insurance to stop encouraging Americans to build in harm’s way, but the National Flood Insurance Program is still almost as dysfunctional as it was 19 years ago. It is now nearly $25 billion in the red, piling debt onto the national credit card. Meanwhile, cities like Houston—as well as New Orleans, which Higher Ground identified as the national leader in repetitive losses eight years before Hurricane Katrina—continue to sprawl into their vulnerable floodplains, aided by the availability of inexpensive federally supported insurance.”

Meanwhile, “Houston’s low-lying flatlands keep booming, as sprawling subdivisions and parking lots pave over the wetlands and pastures that used to soak up the area’s excess rainfall, which is how Houston managed to host three ‘500-year floods’ in the last three years.” [emphasis added]

“Climate change almost certainly made Harvey marginally worse, giving the storm a boost through higher sea levels and warmer sea temperatures. And it’s true that federal flood policies have ignored climate. President Obama tried to change that a bit, ordering federal agencies to account for rising seas and other flood risks when permitting infrastructure projects, but President Trump revoked the order just last week.”

“But the climate is not changing fast enough to explain the dramatic spikes in disaster costs; all seven of the billion-dollar storms in American history have made landfall in the 21st century, and Harvey will be the eighth. Experts believe the main culprit is the explosive growth of low-lying riverine and coastal development, which has had the double effect of increasing floods (by replacing prairies and other natural sponges that hold water with pavement that deflects water) while moving more property into the path of those floods.”

The National Flood Insurance Program—which routinely pays out more than it takes in—is now around $25 billion in debt, and sinking faster as the 21st century advances.

“A recent Pew Foundation study found that the Higher Ground problems have not been solved; about 1 percent of insured properties have sustained repetitive losses, accounting for more than 25 percent of the nation’s flood claims.” [emphasis added]

Of course, Houston isn’t the only low-lying city that engages in this “lather, rinse, repeat” process—other threatened cities include St. Louis, Miami, and Sacramento.

Environment & Education Inequity, Michigan Version

  • The Governor of Michigan has signed off on a bill to fail 3rd-graders—at least some of whom have been poisoned by lead-poisoned water in Flint

“We know that the fear of failing a grade for a child is on the same level as losing a parent. Once a child is humiliated by this action, they will have a difficult time ever fully recovering.”

“Children develop at different rates. Some make huge leaps after lagging behind. But when they are retained they can be so psychologically damaged that they forever see themselves as failures.

“We know children who fail third grade have a much greater chance of dropping out of school. I have observed this in middle school where these children are bullied or become bullies due to their size.

“Retention should be a rare occurrence with consideration of a wide range of circumstances. Parents and teachers should be the ultimate decision-makers and the child should be no older than kindergarten.”

Note: The reformist word for “failure” is “retention”—thus, 8- and 9-year-olds no longer “fail” 3rd grade, they are “retained” in third grade.

Illinois Update: SB 1947, Senate floor vote today

  • Whoops, how’d this get made public?

The CPAA (Chicago Principals and Administrators Association) has obtained a copy of an email sent out to Chicago-area school principals requiring them to call their state Reps/Senators—and reach out to the families of students in their schools—to lobby for passage of the education funding bill during working hours. The emails were sent by Rahm-appointed CPS officials …

From the CPAA’s initial response:
The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association condemns CPS’s flagrantly unconstitutional action.  CPS’s attempt at coerced employee political mobilization makes principals feel pressured to support the pro-voucher positions of CPS officials and the mayor who appointed them. As the American Prospect stated, ‘This kind of mobilization poses a serious threat to the right of workers, as citizens, to arrive at their political views and decisions free from the undue influence of others. Coercive mobilization also violates individual workers’ rights to free speech, as they are pressured into making political statements that they may not believe but feel are necessary to appease their employers.’  This kind of heavy-handed political coercion is particularly troublesome coming from a public institution.”

Shocking, but not really surprising–this is, after all, Chicago, CPS, and Rahm Emanuel.

More in a few hours as the Illinois Senate swings into session.

*Update One: The Illinois Senate began its “emergency session” at 11 am CT today. No word yet…

**Update Two:   Caucuses ended around 1 pm CT, floor debate has begun.

@FundILFuture: Senator Andy Manar addresses advocates of #SB1 collectively: Your advocacy that you achieved is here in this bill almost in its entirety.

@FundILFuture: Sen. Biss will vote no. Says tax credit program sets a dangerous precedent.

Vote imminent, stay tuned.

***Update Three: And (drum roll) … we have a new evidence-based model for education funding in the Land of Lincoln.

Vote: 38-13 with 8 not voting or voting present. Crossovers on both sides, so in that sense, genuinely bipartisan.

So, who brought this one home? Cullerton? Brady? Manar (sponsor of the original SB1)? Really great caucusing … the backstory deserves an in-depth piece someday.

Reactions starting to come in … Governor expected to sign it tomorrow at an “event” in Chicago (naturally) along with leaders (Madigan, Durkin from House; Cullerton, Brady from Senate) and other invited guests.

Governor just went to the Senate floor; pictured shaking hands with Manar.

Note: The Gov will try to turn this historic legislation to his advantage, although just how he’ll do that–after issuing an Amendatory Veto of SB1, the bill’s original form–remains a bit of a puzzle. But long term, he will be remembered for this bill … history makes strange, etc.

Some other good–actually, very good–legislation got passed by the ILGA this session, including AVR (Automatic Voter Registration; IL becomes 10th state to institute AVR) and the TRUST Act–maybe the governor will get around to signing the bill on asset forfeiture, too — as one journalist noted, “Huh? How can anybody be for asset forfeiture?” Well, yes.

From the capitolfax post and comments thread on the bill’s passage:

  • – Ed Observer – Tuesday, Aug 29, 17 @ 2:15 pm: Truly, this is an historic day in Illinois. And done so in a bipartisan manner. Good for kids, good for schools and good for Illinois.
  • – We’ll See – Tuesday, Aug 29, 17 @ 2:28 pm: The adults finally showed up…. maybe crazy can take a little time off.

Illinois politics: exiting, frustrating, infuriating, depressing, inspiring, and sometimes, just pretty darn thrilling. Maybe more thrilling than … GoT, even. Because real.

****Update Four: Illinois made the front page of Politico. Natasha Korecki provides a summary for outsiders to the epic struggle leading to Tuesday’s Senate vote. Nothing we don’t already know, but hopefully some national-level ed writers will pick up on the scholarship tax credit program and get on the horn about it.









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