Who Should Pay for Hurricane Harvey Damages?

The Texas State House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee held a hearing in Houston on Wednesday morning. This was the statement submitted by AAH Executive Director Bakeyah Nelson.

Who should pay for Hurricane Harvey damages?

It is clear to everyone that the Houston region needs improved infrastructure to protect people from future storms. Harvey was an unprecedented flooding event, but it was not the worst-case scenario for our city. We need to prepare for a direct hit from a hurricane.

Here is the question: Who should pay for the improvements?

While we all have a role to play and pay, Air Alliance Houston believes that the oil and gas industry, which is primarily responsible for the air pollution that is changing our weather, should pay a significant part of the bill for making our shared home stronger and more resilient.

For years, Texas taxpayers have shouldered the burden for the costs associated with the extraction, storage, refining, transport and combustion of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies have invested billions of dollars in expanding their production infrastructure. Overall, Houston’s sprawling network of petrochemical plants and oil refineries have spent more than $50 billion on construction projects since 2013.

With these companies releasing more pollution into the air, weather events like Harvey will become more frequent and more intense. The social, economic and public health costs are indisputable. As Judge Emmett noted in his testimony today to the House Natural Resources Committee, this is a “redefining moment” for the Houston region.  We agree and feel that it is time that industry pay its fair share for damages to our infrastructure and environment.

One approach to explore is establishing risk bonds, paid for by the oil and gas industry to cover economic damages associated with the production of fossil fuels. This could include surcharge-based trust funds that would cover the costs of weather-related disasters, air and water pollution, and other pervasive hazards associated with fossil fuels.

This is an innovative policy approach that would systematically shift the financial costs away from the public. These funds could work in many ways. They could compensate homeowners for property damage caused by chemical spills, explosions, and floods. They could also relocate families away from dangerous infrastructure or flood plains.

Now is the time for industries in Houston and across Texas to step up and take the lead on protecting its workers, their families, and our communities from a catastrophic future that is certain without the appropriate investments.