In less than a week, Hurricane Florence has mercilessly cut a wide path through southern coastal states, killing more than 30 people and destroying countless homes and businesses. One million customers lost power, with no timeline for restoration. Floodwaters from the slow-moving storm cut off the entire town of Wilmington, N.C. from the rest of the mainland. A CSX train derailed near the North and South Carolina border, and water washed over hog and chicken farms, spreading fecal waste to nearby properties.
Just three days into the storm, rainfall broke records, dumping almost 50 inches in some places before moving north this week. It will take months to fully assess the damage and years to recover.
Even though our region escaped the full wrath of Florence, the storm has left behind some important lessons — starting with the need for good preparation. That should include smart energy policies. Unfortunately, we're seeing the opposite from Washington.
President Trump is rolling back emissions standards for cars, light trucks, and coal-fired electrical plants, the biggest generators of greenhouse gases. The gases trap heat in the atmosphere, making water and air warmer, which, in turn, fuels storms.
Ignoring this science, the administration in August froze new standards for vehicles that would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by doubling the average fuel economy of cars to 54.4 miles a gallon. The administration also announced its alternative to former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon emissions at coal plants. The Obama plan was already weak, according to critics, who argued it didn't go far enough to forestall the impacts of climate change. The Trump plan is even weaker.
The president says he wants to save the coal industry, but coal is losing out to cheaper natural gas and clean energy sources like wind and solar. Trump is more likely helping the owners of coal plants at the expense of our environment and safety.
As Washington dawdles, however, some states are trying to pick up the slack. New Jersey, which still hasn't fully recovered from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is pushing ahead on offshore wind farms to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The state also is updating its Shore Protection Plan to address the shore's new reality of more frequent and intense flooding.
Pennsylvania is so far behind in protecting the environment, it doesn't even impose a severance tax on natural-gas fracturing, like every other major natural-gas producing state. And, its coal plants are the subjects of frequent complaints from Delaware and Maryland, which say the smog blowing over their borders is making residents sick.
Pennsylvania is going to have to wake up. It broke its own annual rainfall record in August — with four months to go. On Sept. 9, Philadelphia's rainfall total hit 40 inches – 11 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service.
Just because Florence only sent us rain doesn't mean the local outlook is sunny. Monster storms are becoming more common, and the hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30. Voters should hold that in mind as they slog to the polls on Nov. 6.