Maryland religious groups helping with Hurricane Irma relief. (WJZ)
Even for Americans not in the direct path of the one-two punch of Harvey and Irma, September's record-breaking hurricanes have been a wake-up call. Most Marylanders, at least those not middle-aged or above, likely have no memory of Tropical Storm Agnes, the 1972 storm that killed 19 in Maryland, most as the result of flooding. For those who do, however, the hurricane-driven walls of water that struck cities from Galveston, Texas to Fort Myers, Fla. (and in the case of Irma, continue to threaten the Southeast), may have brought back painful memories of rainfall that arrived so quickly and in such overwhelming quantity that officials contemplated blowing up a section of the Conowingo Dam to prevent catastrophic failure.
The Environmental Protection Agency is working to help secure some of the nation's most contaminated toxic waste sites as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida.
By By Michael Biesecker and Jason Dearen
Sep 09, 2017 | 10:16 PM
That may be one reason Harvey and Irma have already inspired much good will and charity from here and across the nation in recent days. It didn't take long for local organizations like the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company to begin collecting supplies for rain-soaked Houston or for an estimated one hundred volunteers to travel from Maryland to aid Harvey victims on behalf of the American Red Cross. If there is one good thing to come out of the September devastation, it's the unity and good will, the empathy and courage that have been so much in evidence in recent days. People are helping people and in the overwhelming majority of cases without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or class, citizenship or political affiliation.
Yet it's also fair to ask: Are we learning from these terrible events? Last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said something that raises serious doubts that anything can permeate the Washington bubble, even a tidal wave of evidence. During an interview last week on CNN, Mr. Pruitt said — while the nation was facing the intensity of Irma — that now was not the time to talk about climate change. His exact words: "What we need to focus on is access to clean water, addressing these areas of Superfund activities that may cause an attack on water, these issues of access to fuel. Those are things so important to citizens of Florida right now, and to discuss the cause and effect of these storms, there's the … place (and time) to do that, it's not now."
Storms are often described as "monsters," which leaves us feeling helpless as well as off the hook.
By Cynthia Barnett
Sep 10, 2017 | 6:00 AM
There are a number of problems with that response, not the least of which is that Mr. Pruitt is head of the EPA, not FEMA. If now is not a moment for the federal government's top environmental enforcer to be discussing the reasons why Florida and Texas are under water and facing hundreds of billions in damage, when is? One suspects Floridians aren't offended by climate change discussions nearly as much as Mr. Pruitt apparently is. He is the Trump administration's chief denier of the damage that man-made greenhouse gases have brought on the planet, and these historic storms (along with sea level rise and warming that helps enable them) aren't strengthening his argument in any way, shape or form.
What's offensive is for people in positions of leadership, whether in Maryland, D.C. or anywhere else, to stick their heads in the sand when disaster strikes. If there is anyone living in this Blue State who dares to "tut-tut" because Harvey and Irma have hit Red States hardest, they ought to check their smugness, too. In a matter of days, the next storm in line, Hurricane Jose, could easily be threatening the East Coast. Do they have a disaster plan? Do they have flashlights and batteries, a stocked first aid kit or evacuation route? To not be prepared (and specifics can be found at the Department of Homeland Security web site, ready.gov) after recent events would be foolish. But then so is avoiding the subject of climate change just as some of its worst effects become most evident.
Congress and the White House can promise all the relief funds they want, but if they are unwilling to address the underlying conditions that are causing more severe weather (and that includes droughts, wildfires and other disasters, too), it's ultimately wasted effort. Today, it's Irma, tomorrow, it could be worse. To demonstrate not a care about that is the most offensive reaction of all.