Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
Originally featured in The Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation blog post.
The state of Texas has a tradition of fierce independence that has often put the state at odds with federal environmental policies and regulations. According to a recent report by The Texas Tribune, Texas sued the federal government 27 times since 2009 over federal rules and regulations relating to air and water quality and climate change.
Does this mean that Texas has made no progress in working with the federal government to protect the environment?
Here are what the facts show: Texas has a thriving environmental stewardship community comprised of stakeholders from state and federal agencies, local communities, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations. Non-regulatory programs fuel these collaborations.
With the Trump administration on the verge of altering the landscape of environmental regulation at the national level, it’s important to note that not all advances in environmental protection and stewardship result from environmental regulations.
Non-regulatory, science-based programs play a key role in environmental protection, particularly in states such as Texas. The Lone Star State can serve as a model of federal and state partnerships to fund and implement non-regulatory environmental programs to protect natural resources and communities. And, the good news: there are a number of excellent such programs.
One example: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program is a non-regulatory network comprised of stakeholders from public and private entities in 28 estuaries around the country working to restore and protect coastal watersheds. Watershed Protection Plans, also funded by the EPA, are community developed and implemented.
These voluntary, non-regulatory plans have become a cornerstone of restoring fishable and swimmable waters in Texas’s urban cities and rural communities. Funding and expertise from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies in concert with Texas state agencies support landowner incentive programs to implement voluntary conservation practices on private and working lands.
Almost half of the United States’s population lives in coastal areas that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Communities are served best by engaging stakeholders at all levels of government and in the private sector to identify short-and long-term strategies to increase resilience to sea level rise, coastal flooding, drought, and hurricanes.
Although climate change and its causes are a political hot-button issue in Texas, increasing the resilience of communities and the businesses and industries that drive local economies is an issue that garners widespread support among residents, activists, and politicians. Federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are important partners.
In a time when the political pendulum appears to be swinging away from environmental regulation at the federal level, there are ways to protect the environment while maintaining a strong economy—the two need not be mutually exclusive.
The Trump administration should look to Texas for models of non-regulatory environmental success. Financial resources, public-private partnerships, environmental monitoring, and scientific research are vital ingredients of non-regulatory environmental programs. Federal agencies can and should play a key role in implementing these programs to advance a lasting legacy of sustainability and environmental stewardship for the benefit of all Americans.
Lisa Gonzalez is the president and CEO of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC). She is responsible for the strategic direction of HARC and its research programs, which are designed to facilitate sustainable management of air, energy, water and natural resources. Gonzalez holds a Master of Science in Environmental Management from the University of Houston–Clear Lake and a Bachelors Science in Marine Fisheries from Texas A&M University at Galveston. For information, visit www.HARCresearch.org or follow Twitter @LisaG_HARC or @HARCresearch.