Real estate, risks, economics, & more: links & commentary for April 24, 2019

New York City to Require Buildings to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions in First of Its Kind Law

The City Council passed a measure aimed at reducing buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.

The plan is said to be the first of its kind in the world.

It’s part of the city’s effort to cut emissions 80% citywide by 2050.


$16B and Counting: The Climate Change List No One Wants to Be On:

It’s the climate change list (one of them) that no one wants to be part of, but Ocean City, N.J., Miami Beach and Hollywood, Florida, have been crowned the biggest losers in the United States in terms of home value due to climate change-enhanced flooding.

Ocean City alone lost $530 million in home value in the last 15 years with $612 million more pain coming in the next 15, according to an analysis conducted by First Street Foundation. Miami Beach has seen $337 million in home value wash away since 2005, and all told $16 billion in home value has been erased along the East and Gulf Coasts in the last decade and a half.

… Perhaps the most important factor, according to Stiles, is not flooding itself but the escalating cost of flood insurance for certain homes.

“I’ve had three people move onto my block, which doesn’t require insurance,” says Stiles. “They told me they were getting away, because of flood insurance. They could get more equity in this neighborhood.”

Stiles says his flood insurance is only $500 per year, but his agent told him the same house in a FEMA flood zone would cost eight times as much to insure. However, picking your house based on FEMA’s flood maps isn’t always straightforward. The agency periodically updates its maps to reflect new conditions. The process is politically fraught as towns fight bitterly to prevent homes from being included in these maps. Homeowners fear the increased flood insurance costs and the federal mandate that you must buy it. A flood designation has other major consequences, no federally backed mortgages or disaster relief unless a neighborhood fully complies with the federal program. Currently, there are more than 5 million homes in FEMA’s national flood insurance program.


A Neighborhood Requiem: disaster gentrification:

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last year, Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, saw the early stages of a housing grab and described it as “disaster gentrification.” Similar buyouts and land-flipping happened in New York after Hurricane Sandy and in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

In every city, storm damage and flooding initially displaced people of every ethnicity and income level, though in New Orleans, like elsewhere, communities of color were harder hit because of historically segregated housing patterns that pushed African American households to lower-lying areas. One analysis of black and white households found that black residents were more than twice as likely to live in flooded areas.

In New Orleans, the disparities were exacerbated during rebuilding, as higher-income people moved into city cores, displacing lower-income families. Similar “back to the city” dynamics are playing out in every urban area across the country. But in disaster-ravaged cities like New Orleans, they’re playing out at fast-forward speed.

I remember after the flood and when things had dried out, there were perfectly good public-housing complexes sitting there boarded up with the former residence ready and willing and desirous to move back in. They weren’t allowed to. The places were sold off as uninhabitable. They were not at all uninhabitable. The fact is, it was racism at work.

NOAA Upgrades Hurricane Michael to Category 5:

But the reclassification doesn’t come with the much-needed state and federal funding Cathey said is necessary to rebuild.


City Council in Hawaii Advances Vacation Rental Bills:

Bill 89 would allow up to 4,000 bed-and-breakfast operations, those run by owner-occupants, across Oahu but no new “whole home” vacation rentals, also known as TVUs, where there is no owner-occupant present.


Municipalities Try to Reassure Investors on Climate Risks in Bond Offerings:

BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, says that within a decade, more than 15 percent of debt in the S&P National Municipal Bond Index will come from regions that could suffer losses from climate change adding up to as much as 1 percent of gross domestic product annually.

BlackRock developed a model which uses climate data to analyze the physical risks and probabilities of flooding and hurricane force winds on a granular level across the U.S. The company’s research found that Coastal Florida, the Gulf Coast region — which was recently battered by Hurricane Harvey — and Arizona because of extreme heat, are most susceptible to economic losses from climate change.


California Insurance Commissioner Rejects Petition to Require Fossil Fuel Underwriting Disclosure:

The petition called for Lara to immediately initiate a rulemaking proceeding and promulgate emergency regulations to require all insurance companies licensed to conduct business in California to fully disclose all their investments in fossil fuel-related entities, and all the fossil fuel-related companies and projects that they underwrite or otherwise insure.

The petition also sought to expand disclosure of insurance companies’ fossil fuel-related investments.

It remains to be seen just how well the commissioner will do bringing different interests together to combat global warming. I, for one, hope he does really, really well; but, I’m not sure he should have summarily rejected the petition. Perhaps he could have lowered the threshold from $100 million to 50 just to show that he has everyone’s interest at heart.

I do understand his thinking about not prematurely ganging up on insurers who are working out plans to divest from carbon-fuel industries and to withdraw coverage for the same. This area is still quite new to those just waking up to the waiting crisis if we fail to act quickly and decisively enough. We need to hurry, but we can’t slash and burn everyone to save them.

He doesn’t sound like he’s planning to drag his feet, though. I’m for giving him a chance to try it his way.

Alphabet’s Drone Delivery Business Cleared for Takeoff by FAA:

“It shows these devices can be value added in our communities,” Burgess said. “They can be a faster, cleaner, less expensive way to transport things while still adding to the safety of society.”


Electric vehicles in Germany account for more CO2 emissions than diesel ones, according to a study by German scientists

The problem with that kind of thinking is not taking into consideration the holistic approach. The holistic approach is concerned with every point at which carbon-fuel burning can be switched to electric energy. Mining, etc., can all be electrified. Diesel can’t do that. With carbon burning, you’re stuck.

Rep. Pingree highlights role of farmers in fighting climate change:

One of the largest programs, recently announced by a partnership of NGOS and major companies, would place a value on such carbon-building practices as no-till farming and cover crops, which build organic matter in the soil by pulling carbon out of the air.


Scientists Dig Into Hard Questions About The Fluorinated Pollutants Known As PFAS:

“Essentially everyone has these compounds in our blood,” she explains.

That’s in part because PFAS don’t break down easily — a quality that has earned them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Some varieties have been found to stick around in the human body for years, if not decades. Others accumulate in soil or water, creating a continuous source of exposure.

Despite their ubiquity, however, scientists know relatively little about the health effects of most types of PFAS.

No PFAS legal safety limit yet

“Despite their everyday use, the body of science necessary to fully understand and regulate these chemicals is not yet as robust as it needs to be,” acknowledged the assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, David Ross, at a congressional hearing on PFAS in March.

“These are a very broad class of chemicals — probably 5,000 or more — and it seems like new ones are being produced all the time,” she says.

In most cases, U.S. chemical regulations do not require that companies prove a chemical is safe before they start selling it. It’s up to the EPA to determine whether a substance is unacceptably dangerous and under what circumstances, and typically such analyses begin only after public health concerns are raised.

At the current rate of research, Birnbaum says, it will take about two years to get a basic handle on the toxicity of the whole PFAS group. But there will still be many questions for both scientists and regulators.