Coastal development: A cautionary tale

Presented by National Clean Energy Week


Hurricane Ian bulldozed some of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, laying bare the consequences of largely unmitigated coastal development in the age of rapid climate change.

The Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s southwestern coast, where populations have doubled, and in some counties tripled, since former Gov. Rick Scott (R) removed state-level controls on local development plans a decade ago, as POLITICO’s E&E News reporters Thomas Frank and Daniel Cusick note in a story today.

Even before then, counties along the state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts grew rapidly despite warnings that the state was courting disaster and outstripping its water supply.

The more coastal development, the more people are in harm’s way. Before the storm, experts estimated that 7.2 million homes — worth a combined $1.6 trillion — were at risk of being damaged by flash flooding from Ian.

“From a long-range planning point of view, much of what we see today in southwest Florida should not be there,” Tim Chapin, a professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University, told Thomas and Daniel.

Development can also change the physical landscape of a coast, thereby hampering its natural ability to mitigate a storm’s impact.

Sandy beaches and mangrove-lined barrier islands offer a buffer zone between land, bay and ocean, acting as a shield from the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms. Development can disrupt the natural processes that allow these buffers to absorb a storm’s energy.

In other words, coastal development weakens that first line of defense. And it’s taking a toll. A significant proportion of the world’s sandy coastline is eroding at rates that are alarming scientists, and sea-level rise is only exacerbating the problem.

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensities of storms, giving weakened areas less time to recover and fortify. Ian, for example, developed as a rare triple threat: raging winds of 155 mph, storm surges over 12 feet and more than 2 feet of rainfall that caused massive flooding.

More than 2 million power customers were without electricity this morning, and it could take weeks to restore it. The hurricane came dangerously close to becoming a Category 5 storm, which starts at 157 mph. Only four hurricanes have hit the country at that strength in the last century.

It’s Thursday — thank you for tuning in to POLITICO’s Power Switch. I’m your host, Arianna Skibell. Power Switch is brought to you by the journalists behind E&E News and POLITICO Energy. Send your tips, comments, questions to [email protected]

Today in POLITICO Energy’s podcast: Josh Siegel and Kelsey Tamborrino discuss why Sen. Joe Manchin backed off on his permitting legislation and the remaining obstacles a future bill will face.

Power Centers

Nord Stream nightmare
The Swedish coast guard confirmed Thursday that massive explosions have caused four leaks in the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines out of Russia, with two in the Swedish and two in the Danish exclusive economic zones of the Baltic Sea, write Camille Gijs and Charlie Duxbury.

U.S. and European officials are increasingly pointing toward sabotage, though they’ve stopped short of directly blaming Russia, write Zack Colman and Ben Lefebvre. Meanwhile, Russia is ramping up attempts to deflect blame.

The purported sabotage may be one of the worst industrial methane accidents in history, but scientists are saying it may not be a major climate disaster. Karl Mathiesen and Zia Weise break down the environmental implications.

Power line problems
The demise of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting proposal throws new uncertainty over the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s efforts to approve long-distance power lines that would move wind and solar energy into urban areas, writes Miranda Willson.

It also revives an old question: Why can’t the nation’s top energy regulator approve high-voltage transmission projects that cross state lines?

Hurricanes on hurricanes
Puerto Ricans still trying to recover from Hurricane Fiona have a plea for the Biden administration: Don’t forget about us.

Some in the U.S. island territory fear that the recovery needs in Florida due to Hurricane Ian will shift attention and resources away from Puerto Rico while it remains vulnerable, writes Gloria Gonzalez.

Biden responded to those concerns today. “I want to be clear: To the people of Puerto Rico, we’re not going away,” the president said. “I am committed to you and the recovery of the island.”

In Other News

Fast melt: Glaciers are vanishing at record rate in the Alps following recent heat waves.

Hurry up and wait: Figuring out how to take advantage of the electric vehicle tax credits in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is proving difficult, to say the least.

Question Corner

The science, policy and politics driving the energy transition can feel miles away. But we’re all affected on an individual and communal level — from hotter days and higher gas prices to home insurance rates and food supply.

Want to know more? Send me your questions and I’ll get you answers.

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That’s it for today, folks! Thanks for reading.

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