No one has to convince Tuere Brown that climate change is real. Like many of her neighbors, Brown has grown accustomed to the tide-induced flooding that can disrupt daily life in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region, where a sinking shoreline meets a sea level now 15 inches higher than it was 80 years ago — thanks to melting Arctic glaciers and changes in ocean currents.
Over the past year, the Chesapeake, Virginia, teacher has been caught four times in what climate scientists here classify as “minor” flooding, the kind that forces people indoors, washes over cars and submerges roads. In neighboring Norfolk, the most vulnerable city to sea-level rise on the East Coast, people say the water seems to spring up from underground, gushing out of manholes, floorboards and yards.
“The flooding is definitely changing and getting more drastic,” said Brown, who in the wake of Hurricane Matthew last month found swamp water lapping at the front door of her in-laws’ house across town. For two days, the family watched residents of the city’s Deep Creek neighborhood paddle canoes in the streets. When Brown’s father-in-law fell ill, paramedics shuttled him to an ambulance by boat.
“People can’t live like this,” she said.
In Virginia, a battleground state won by Hillary Clinton, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe was elected as a clean-energy candidate willing to fight climate change while conservative Republican lawmakers still refuse to utter the phrase. Political gridlock left Brown and others in Hampton Roads pinning their hopes for action on the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature climate policy.
The regulation, issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year, sets first-ever standards for curbing carbon emissions from power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases. It requires that carbon pollution be pared by nearly a third – compared to 2005 levels – by 2030. The plan is America’s primary vehicle for meeting a commitment to slash emissions under the Paris climate accord.
Even before Donald Trump’s upset presidential victory, the plan faced an uncertain fate. Twenty-seven states, along with coal companies, utilities and trade associations, sued the EPA in federal court to block it, and in February the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay, halting the plan’s implementation.
Trump’s arrival in the White House stands to deliver a fatal blow. The president-elect has promised to “rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan,” Obama’s national blueprint for cutting carbon pollution. On the campaign stump, Trump repeatedly described global warming as “a hoax.” He named a climate-change denier, Myron Ebell of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, to head his EPA transition team.