US Supreme Court’s Ruling Limiting the EPA’s Ability to Regulate Greenhouse Gases is a Blow to Sea Level Rise Real Estate

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate the release of greenhouse gases by electrical power plants is a serious blow to efforts to fight overall global warming and the resultant sea level rise that threatens billions of dollars of real estate all along the U.S. coastline.

Scientists based their latest estimates on the amount of sea level rise U.S. coastal communities will experience between now and the end of the century on the assumption that regulators, like the EPA, would be able to force electrical power plants and other major greenhouse gas emitters to reduce their annual output. With no oversight from the EPA, the court is saying that the American public has to rely on Congress to pass specific legislation restricting emissions from individual sources. The reality of this situation is that Congress is heavily under the influence of fossil fuel — coal, oil and natural gas — producer campaign contributions, so getting meaningful regulations passed will be nearly impossible.

Where does this leave us? Quite frankly, living in a world that’s already overheating and experiencing longer, hotter and more deadly heatwaves, mega-droughts that threaten the very existence of cities in the American West, supercharged tropical storms, hurricanes and local rain events that bring devastating flooding, calamitous wildfires, and rising seas that are inundating coastal real estate.

The Supreme Court’s decision limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will accelerate global warming. This will result in faster ocean expansion and ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica and, ultimately, sea level rise at the high end of expert forecasts. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website: “Current and future emissions matter. About 2 feet or sea level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date. Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5-5 feet of rise for a total of 3.5-7 feet by the end of this century.”

It’s important to keep in mind that many coastal communities are already spending millions of dollars combatting the sea level rise we’re already experiencing. Every additional inch between now and the 2100 will add to the burden and damage more and more public and private real estate and infrastructure. For example, if saltwater invades the water table and fouls freshwater wells, some cities and towns will find it hard to continue to exist.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s EPA decision is dangerous for the U.S. and the entire planet. The best we can do to protect our lives and property and the lives and property of others is to vote only for candidates who who are prepared to ignore old world energy producers and join the fight against climate change, global warming and sea level rise.

Hot Housing Market Chills Flood-Prone-Housing Buyout Programs

One tool local officials have to combat sea level rise flooding that damages residential real estate is home buyouts. According to an Associated Press article, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has spent nearly $3.5 billion over the last 30 years to help communities purchase nearly 50,000 flood-prone properties. Typically buyouts are used so communities and insurers don’t have to bear the cost of repairing or rebuilding houses that repeatedly flood.

The rapid appreciation in real estate value over the past year, however, is posing a challenge to officials trying to buyout flood-prone homes. According to the Associated press report, owners who would usually accept the terms of a buyout are now, in many cases, turning them down with the hope that a buyer will pay even more than the buyout program offers. Another reason some owners are reluctant to sell is that they realize that all the real estate in their community has been appreciating so finding a replacement home in a location that doesn’t flood at an affordable price can be quite a challenge.

In response to the real estate appreciation challenge, FEMA is offering more money — up to $31,000 — to help homeowners find affordable replacement housing. Some states are also offering extra money to people who agree to be bought out.

Refusing a buyout is not without risk for homeowners. If their house floods while it’s up for sale, it will be difficult to find a buyer willing to purchase it. This is an especially serious issue for property owners in coastal communities during hurricane season.

This buyout situation should serve as a cautionary tale for buyers. To avoid unknowingly purchasing a flood-prone home that really should be bought-out to stop the repair and rebuilding cycle, they need to perform due diligence and determine whether the risk is worth it to them. Some coastal states — like Florida — don’t have strong sellers’ flood disclosure requirements, so they will have to conduct research on their own to independently confirm whether a property is flood prone. FEMA flood maps, local real estate agents, insurers, and mortgage providers are a great place to start.

New “HazardAware” Website Gives Gulf Coast Real Estate Owners, Buyers Info on Risks Posed By Sea Level Rise and Climate Change

In the age of climate change and sea level rise, one of the most difficult tasks for real estate owners and buyers is to evaluate a property’s risk of damage from ever-worsening natural disasters. Experts from several universities have developed a new website called HazardAware to make the process of evaluation a little easier in Florida and coastal area counties in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

When real estate owners and buyers enter an address in a search window on the site, they’re given “A home’s HazardReady Score” which tells them whether a home is more or less resilient to natural disasters than average. They’re also given a wealth of data on a home’s, neighborhood’s and community’s risks for certain types of hazards, such as wind, tornadoes, flooding and hail, and a general analysis of the threat sea level rise poses to a property.

HazardAware also assists real estate owners and buyers by telling them what questions they should consider about a given property and what they can do to reduce their exposure to certain risks.

When I ran a couple of addresses that I’m familiar with on the HazardAware website, I received four pages of thought-provoking information, including links where I could get even more information about climate change, sea level rise, insurance and other relevant topics. (Oddly enough, for both properties located in South Florida and Southwest Florida HazardAware listed “Extreme Cold” as among the top four hazards based on insurance loss, which seemed a little suspicious.)

HazardAware also has a section that discussed the properties’ risk of sea level rise flooding based on a their status under FEMA’s Coastal High Hazard Areas program, but it didn’t really delve too deeply into the issue. At this point, real estate buyers and owners involved in property located near the coast may want to increase their knowledge of a property’s, neighborhood’s and community’s sea level rise flooding risk by visiting Climate Central and using its excellent hazard maps.

As with all online tools, HazardAware is a great place to gather general information about a property’s risk of damage from natural hazards, such as sea level rise, but owners and buyers still need to perform additional due diligence. For example, they need to verify information provided by the online tools and find out the specific insurance claims history of a property. They also need to further research the threat the natural hazard currently poses to a property, neighborhood and community, what is being done to address the threat, and how it will impact how much they will have to pay for property maintenance, insurance, and taxes, and, ultimately, how it will impact their property value.

Another critically important factor to research is the health of the loCAL mortgage and insurance industries. If providers of mortgages and/or insurance are struggling in an area, this could be a warning that the local real estate market is in jeopardy.

Florida’s New Condo Inspection Law Protects Real Estate Owners — at a Cost

Last year’s partial collapse of a condominium building in Surfside, Florida, that tragically killed 98 people, led to a call for stricter inspection regulations. Gov. Ron DeSantis responded recently by signing a law with much tighter inspection requirements.

Under the new state law, all residential building three stories or taller must undergo a detailed structural inspection after 30 years and then every 10 years after that. Buildings within three miles of the coast — where salty ocean water can be highly corrosive to structural components — face even tougher rules. They have to be inspected after 25 years and every seven years after that.

Whenever structural damage is found, buildings are required to undergo a more thorough secondary inspection. The results of the inspections have to be made available to unit owners and local government officials.

In addition to the inspection rules, the new law requires condominium associations to evaluate their reserve funds every 10 years to make sure they have enough cash to cover the cost of major repairs.

The new law, which is due to go into effect in January 2025, could lead to a substantial increase in condo fees and special assessments. Depending on the size of a building, professional engineering inspections can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And buildings that have not maintained sufficient reserves could face large special assessments to cover the cost of repairs identified by structural engineers and/or to bring underfunded reserves into compliance.

With sea level rise and stronger tropical storms adding stress to buildings located near the coast, real estate owners and buyers in Florida should be encouraged that the new law will improve safety and reduce the odds of another Surfside-like collapse. But, for budgeting purposes, they need to be aware of a building’s age, inspection status, potential repair issues, and reserves status. Condo board members, meeting minutes and financials should provide a clear picture of a building’s situation.

Other states may have inspection and reserves requirements similar to Florida’s that need to be considered when owners and buyers are involved in coastal real estate located within their borders.

Key Greenhouse Gas Reaches Level Not Seen Since Sea Levels Were 16 to 82 Feet Higher Than Today

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reported today that carbon dioxide — a key greenhouse gas fueling global warming — has reached levels not seen for millions of years. This has dire consequences for people who own real estate in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise flooding.

Measurements taken at Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii peaked at 421 parts per million in May. The last time the level was that high over 4 million years ago sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than they are today. The new reading is 1.8 parts per million over 2021. Before the Industrial Revolution got underway in the 1800s, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 parts per million, where they’d been for nearly 6,000 years of human civilization.

Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for an extended period of time. The NOAA report not only stresses the need for humans to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it also sounds the alarm for people who own or are considering buying coastal real estate in areas that are now experiencing or at-risk of experiencing sea level rise flooding.

NOAA’s latest report on sea level rise predicted an average of about 2 feet of sea level rise between now and the end of the century based on current greenhouse gas emissions. If they’re not reduced, that figure rises to up to 7 feet of sea level rise. Some areas are forecast to experience greater or lesser amounts of sea level rise than others due to land elevation, land subsidence, ocean currents and other local conditions.

It’s important to note here that when we talk about up to 7 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, we’re talking about a gradual but accelerating rise in ocean level. This will put more and more coastal real estate at risk of flooding in the years and decades to come before the end of the century.

“The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to,” said NOAA Administrator Risk Spinrad, Ph.D, in an article on the agency’s website. “We can see the impacts of climate change around us every day. The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a star reminder that we need to take urgent, serious steps to become a more Climate Ready Nation.”

The bottom line is to deny or ignore climate change and continue to burn fossil fuels at the current or an even greater rate is to deny basic science. We all need to do what we can to reduce the consumption of coal, oil and natural gas to protect lives, property and, quite frankly, the future of humanity.

New Report Lists Boston Area Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Threats

Longer, hotter heatwaves, contaminated drinking water wells, and more coastal flooding are on tap for the Boston area due to climate change and sea level rise between now and the end of the century. That’s according to a study of 101 cities and towns in the Boston area released today by UMass Boston and the Greater Boston Research Advisory Group (CBRAG).

Among the findings included in the Climate Change Impacts and Projections for the Greater Boston Area report:

  1. Average annual temperatures could range from 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher by the end of this century compared with the start of the century.
  2. Days over 90 degrees could increase from an average of 10 to as many as 80 a year.
  3. Traditional food products, such as cranberries, maple syrup and lobsters and shell fish, could be lost. (Lobsters and some fish are already moving north to escape warmer ocean water.)
  4. Reduced snowpack and faster evaporation due to higher temperatures could lead to a reduction in groundwater needed for drinking water, agriculture and industry.
  5. Sea level rise could contaminate coastal drinking water wells by forcing salt water into fresh groundwater aquifers.
  6. Sea level rise could also boost the number of days Boston experiences sunny day or “nuisance flooding” from approximately 15 days a year to over 180 days.
  7. Quicker, more intense rain storms combined with higher seas and groundwater tables could lead to even worse flooding in coastal areas.
  8. Less hurricanes are expected to hit the region, but the ones that do are likely to be stronger and more damaging.

Researchers say the actual outcomes of their predictions will be influenced by the world’s ability to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Commenting on the report, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said: “We know that the window of time to act on climate change is closing quickly and it is critical to align our policies and programs with the latest science. The CBRAG report analyzes Boston’s climate risk projections so we can make the most informed decisions on how to protect our communities from unavoidable impacts while mitigating emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Boston and the surrounding communities can use the report to map out their response to climate change and sea level rise challenges. Real estate owners and buyers in the affected region should stay up on the proposed solutions as they can impact their taxes, access to potable water, operational life of their septic systems where used, quality of life, and, ultimately, property value.

“Above-Normal” Hurricane Season Forecast Means Coastal Real Estate Owners and Buyers Need to Consider Insurance Options NOW

An ongoing La Nina and above-average Atlantic Ocean water temperatures are leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to forecast an above-normal hurricane season. “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher), according to an agency news release.

With this extreme threat level, owners of coastal real estate and even those well inland in the Eastern U.S. and Hawaii who could be impacted by flood and wind damage from a degrading storm, need to review their insurance coverage. Considering scientists are reporting that global warming and sea level rise are super-charging hurricanes and tropical storms, people who own real estate in at-risk regions should put this on the top of their to-do lists.

Lenders require homeowners with mortgages to purchase basic dwelling coverage that covers the cost of repairs to a damaged home. In areas vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, lenders may require special windstorm and flood insurance.

Considering that FEMA’s flood maps are notoriously outdated and homes well outside the designated flood zones have been damaged by flood waters in past storms, it’s important for homeowners in areas with even a seemingly remote chance of getting hit by floods to consider purchasing coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. For example, in August 2017, thousands of homes outside the FEMA-designated primary flood zone flooded when Hurricane Harvey rolled over the Houston area.

With insurance costs skyrocketing in many coastal areas due to increased claims from past hurricanes and storms, fraud and other reasons, some homeowners are going without insurance. They tend to fall in two camps those who are gambling that their properties will not get hit by a hurricane or tropical storm and those who believe they have enough reserve funds to cover the cost of repairs if they do.

These homeowners need to be aware that waiting until a storm is likely headed their way to purchase insurance won’t work. Flood insurance purchased under the National Flood Insurance Program won’t actually kick in until 30 days after a policy is purchased. In addition, if a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning is issued in a 16,000 square mile box around Florida, the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and most private insurance companies will not accept applications for new coverage. Insurers in other states may have their own last-minute purchase limitations. There’s also a risk that providers may not be able to process applications made before a storm in a timely manner.

When property owners are reviewing their insurance policies, they should also revisit their coverage amounts. With inflation, even $250,000 in coverage won’t provide as much repair and rebuilding purchasing power as it used to. They should also double-check their deductibles to make sure they’re still in line with their financial resources.

Evaluating homeowners, flood and wind insurance can be drudge work under the best of circumstances. However, with the high risk of storms and recent years of climate change super-charged storms wreaking record destruction on coastal real estate and points far inland, not doing your homework can lead to serious negative consequences should a storm hit your property.

Sea Level Rise Flooding Threatens More Than Your Real Estate

When people who own real estate in coastal communities consider the threat posed by sea level rise flooding, they often focus only on their own structures and land. That can be a costly mistake.

The fact is sea level rise flooding outside their property lines can impact their property value, financial future and quality of life. How? For example, nearby roads that flood can keep owners from reaching their property. Wastewater systems that are infiltrated by seawater can become ineffective or even inoperable, which can result in sinks and showers that don’t drain and toilets that don’t flush. And taxes can go up when cities and towns are forced to raise seawalls and other critical infrastructure.

A Civil Grand Jury in Humboldt County in Northern California is busy drafting an assessment that lists the many ways sea level rise will impact coastal communities there. In a report titled “The Sea Also Rises”, the Grand Jury warns that the county, which includes Arcata and Eureka, is at risk from flooding due to the double-whammy of sea level rise and natural land subsidence.

The list of problems the Grand Jury says will be created as seawater inundates more and more land includes the following:

  1. Communities around Humboldt Bay will experience more frequent flooding.
  2. Highway 101 and the only access road to King Salmon could be cut off by floodwater.
  3. The local energy system could be disrupted as flooding impacts a PG&E generating station, municipal water transmission lines, electrical transmission towers, and transmission poles.
  4. An interim spent nuclear fuel site could be damaged.
  5. Commercial properties, including three cargo and commercial docks, could be flooded.
  6. Environmentally contaminated sites in the Arcata and Fairhaven could be compromised.

The Grand Jury isn’t only forecasting future problems, it’s taking stock of problems that exist today. For example, the report says property values in the Fairhaven/Finntown area are already suffering because very high tides are causing septic systems and leaching fields to fail — which is a problem in many coastal areas experiencing sea level rise flooding.

In its draft summary, the Grand Jury is calling on all elected officials to make sea level rise flooding a priority. β€œThe County of Humboldt; the cities of Arcata and Eureka; and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation, and Conservation District should formally state their immediate and continuous support for, and commitment to, SLR (sea level rise) mitigation and adaptation efforts,” it wrote.

Cities and towns all along the US coastline are taking stock of the threats posed to residential and commercial real estate, public lands, and critical infrastructure. A few years ago, an environmental consultant estimated that the mid-sized South Florida city I live in needs to spend $378 million to defend itself against sea level rise. With inflation, it’s likely the actual cost is higher now.

Owners and buyers of real estate in coastal communities need to know what’s at-risk from sea level rise flooding in their community, how much it will cost to eliminate and mitigate the flood waters, how much local taxpayers will be expected to contribute to the effort, and the soundness and life-expectancy of the projects being implemented and those under consideration. Not knowing this critical information could lead to an unexpected loss of property value and spike in taxes and other expenses.

2021 Was a Record Year for Sea Level Rise, That’s Bad News for Coastal Real Estate

This week, the the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that four key climate change indicators reached record highs in 2021. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, ocean heat, ocean acidification, and sea level rise all broke records. The WMO also reported that the years 2015-2021 were the warmest since the industrial revolution–with 2016 being the hottest on record.

Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General, commented, “Our climate is changing before our eyes.”

In 2021, humans burned more fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — which released more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The global warming we’re creating is what’s driving the sea level rise that’s already flooding coastal real estate.

The most disturbing findings for those who own or are interested in purchasing real estate vulnerable to sea level rise flooding: Ocean heating hit a record high in 2021, with the last two decades showing the greatest rate of temperature gains. (Ocean heating and expansion are a major driver of sea level rise.) In addition the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. It increased at nearly .18 of an inch per year from 2013-2021, a rate more than double the increase measured each year between 1993 and 2002.

There’s no sign in 2022 that humans are going to break their addiction to fossil fuels. According to basic science, that means the globe is going to continue to warm and sea level is going to continue to rise at an ever-accelerating rate. Flooding will, too.

Coastal real estate owners who are betting that they’ll be able to sell before the problem impacts their property value need to factor the rapid changes taking place on air, land and sea into their calculations.

Does the 1.5 Degrees Celsius Global Warming Goal Even Matter Anymore?

Headlines abound this week that the world has a 50% chance of surpassing the dreaded 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global temperature since pre-industrial levels. The media is reporting on a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) prediction released Monday that the globe could hit that mark briefly in 2026, which, the experts say, could give us a sampling of what living with catastrophic climate change would be like.

Reading the reports, I had to wonder, do the scientists, journalists, and public officials who worship in the church of 1.5 degrees Celsius, you know, ever actually go outdoors or read the headlines about what’s already happening in the world due to climate change? When the WMO was crunching its numbers and issuing its report, wildfires were ripping through New Mexico at an intensity usually experienced later in fire season, the Western US was pondering life without water and electricity from Lake Powell and Lake Mead, Southern California was dreading the possibility that it could run out of water in August, Northern California was concerned that saltwater could back up into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which would pollute a freshwater source millions of residents and farmers depend on, houses were falling into the ocean in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, hundreds of millions of people in India and Pakistan were enduring a two-month-old deadly heatwave, and France was preparing for a record drought. We’re even starting to see climate migration as Californians move out of their state to escape the heat, wildfires and water restrictions. This is just a partial list of the catastrophes we’re already experiencing, and, according to scientists, we’re only 1.1 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature benchmark.

The WMO report was released a week after Science magazine published a curious report with the headline: “Use of ‘too hot’ climate models exaggerates impacts of global warming”. The article, the U.N., which for years has been sounding the alarm about climate change, was subtitled “U.N. report authors say researchers should avoid suspect models”. Their concern? That studies that predict the world will get hot faster than expected “threatens to undermine the credibility of climate science, some researchers fear.” Let me get this straight: The world is getting torched now and their biggest worry is “the credibility of climate science?”

I think UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hit the mark in March when he said: “Despite growing pledges of climate action, global emissions are at an all-time high. They continue to rise. The latest science shows that climate disruption is causing havoc in every region – right now. We are in a race against time to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. And we are losing.”

As someone who lives in South Florida, where sea level rise is already flooding many coastal communities and lurking just under the manicured lawns and streets in others, and who spent last summer camping his way across America to see firsthand how climate change is already impacting other parts of the country, I can tell you with great certainty that aggressive science isn’t the world’s biggest problem, current climate catastrophe is. During my adventure, I choked on smoke from wildfires ripping through the Rockies, saw Lake Powell shockingly depleted of water, houses teetering on cliff’s edge in Pacifica, Lake Shasta’s water way below its blaze orange banks, a gray dome where Mount Shasta would normally be covered in snow and even worse the northeast side of the mountain ablaze, a fire burning at a distance in Lassen National Peak that consumed half the surrounding forest after I left, the mushroom cloud signature of the Boot Fire in Oregon, and Mount Rainier low on snow after a record heatwave. Running from fire and smoke was an essential part of my summer vacation.

To me, the science I’m reading is out of whack with the reality I’m witnessing with my own eyes. I’m beyond worrying about 1.5 degrees Celsius and temperatures above that mark because we’ve already reached the point of global catastrophe.

There’s a lot of talk about how people are feeling frightened and helpless about climate change. Maybe the solution is to stop arguing over the science and tell them what they can do right now to make a difference through a series of public service announcements. For example, they need to know that they can make a difference today by: 1. Voting only for candidates who believe in climate change and are committed to fighting it; 2. Purchasing the most energy efficient vehicle they can afford; 3. Only driving when necessary, consolidating trips and sharing the ride; 4. Buying only what they truly need; 5. Weatherizing their homes and offices; 6. Purchasing energy efficient appliances; 7. Turning off appliances and electronics that are not in use; 8. Investing in renewable energy, such as solar panels and windmills for their homes and businesses; and 9. Eating a more plant-based diet. In short, they need to understand that we cannot, in fact, continue to live as we are, and continue to live on a habitable planet. The choice is stark, but real. And saving the planet will come at great sacrifice — including higher costs for energy, food and other goods.

Evidence abounds that we’re not running out of time to counter the catastrophic effects of climate change, we’re out of time. We need to act now or suffer even greater consequences.

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