Friday, July 10, 2009

Pollution Insurance

A lot of our current environmental justice movement gained momentum in the late 1970's as large communities began to organize around the clean up of their land because of reckless contamination on the part of a local company. The Superfund Act was passed during this time, in the wake of Love Canal, where two elementary schools were closed due to contamination. Love Canal was also the first time a community was relocated because of toxic chemical contamination.

Part of the Superfund program in EPA is to collect fines from polluting companies and use them to clean up Superfund sites. There are a couple problems with this program. Ok there are a shitload of problems with this program. One of the biggest being that it is bankrupt, since the Bush administration refused to actually fine companies for violating things like the Clean Water Act. The EPA brownfields program was created to shield a lot of this. Why call a piece of land a superfund site if you have to clean it up, when you could call it a brownfield site than give tax incentives to develop it instead of significantly cleaning it up. (Whoaaazzzza! My company is now green! Hmm . . . we should build a school here too, maybe use this old landfill as a soccer field.)

Regardless of how this all plays out in reality (a company isn't actually in defiance if it says that it will fix the problem, so it can't be fined regardless of how long it takes to fix the problem, which isn't exactly the law, but it's what happens), the fact is establishing precautionary policies in all aspect of our lives will help keep real costs down. Including insurance.

Since polluting chemical/coal companies are responsible for much of the climate change problem, shouldn't there be a tax that companies pay which goes to climate change insurance. People's livelihoods are being destroyed because these impacts. And just like cleaning up toxic spills and contaminated land they were responsible for, companies should be investing in climate change insurance for each state. Insurance companies are pulling out of places like Florida, New Jersey, and Louisiana because of higher levels of risk. Florida is currently in an insurance crisis, where the state is the only flood insurance provider and is about to lose State Farm, the only company that stayed in the state after Hurricane Andrew in 1994.

Climate change insurance could help mitigate some of the economic impacts, but the money has to come from polluters. I think that's the only way to encourage companies to clean up. It's kind of like that scene in Kill Bill 2 where the strip club owner makes Budd give up days because the only way you learn is when someone fucks with your money. We need to fuck with their money.

Here is an interesting article, though I don't really agree with a lot of what it says, such as "If I am a farmer and the insurance company tells me my premium will be cheaper if I plant sorghum which is drought-resistant, then that gives me an incentive" That sounds dangerous and counter-productive. I just see a pre-existing condition clause in this. oh here it is: ""Some people are going to be excluded," says Suarez. He points out that this is already true, for instance, in shanty towns in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which are flooded every year."

But there needs to be some balance of insurance companies being able to offer something and polluters having to input somehow. What I found most interesting in this article that it says insurance companies are putting pressure on government to cut emissions. Talk about unlikely bedfellows - insurance companies and sick contaminated communities organizing against coal fire power plants. Though I'm sure coal fire power plants have large investments in insurance companies. So maybe you would first have to leverage some shareholder activity around divestment. I think this is a campaign I could get behind. I see tons of action potential in this one.

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