EPA will center climate change response in Texas on sea level rise, floods, drought and severe storms

A dry boat ramp at Falcon State Park in Roma on Aug. 18, 2022. Water levels usually come up to the pier, but drought conditions have caused the water level to leave the boat ramp dry for almost a year. Credit: Michael Gonzalez for The Texas Tribune

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will roll out a suite of new actions and communication strategies to help Texans adapt to the impacts of climate change — particularly flooding, severe storms and drought.

The plan for EPA’s Region 6 — which includes Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana — found that Texas’ largest vulnerabilities to climate change are to the impacts of more severe droughts, sea level rise, more intense coastal flooding and increased intensity of storms — particularly stronger hurricanes, longer-lasting heat waves and extreme rainstorms.

EPA officials will take several proactive actions, including increasing inspections at industrial facilities along the Gulf Coast that are vulnerable to hurricanes; incorporating climate change adaptation measures into environmental permitting; and increasing enforcement on water systems that fail to comply with federal rules.

The EPA strategy, the agency’s first update to the plans since 2014, includes the expansion or creation of several outreach and communication programs to educate neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change on steps they can take to better prepare. For example, the federal agency will increase outreach to Gulf Coast communities susceptible to flooding.

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Climate change brings with it more intense rainfall, heat, drought and flooding. As a result, more problems surface for cities and states. Water shortages affect everything from water quality in cities to crop failures for the state’s agricultural sector to the demand for electricity. Without sufficient quantities of water, power companies can’t cool their plants and customers could experience interruptions in service. Texans experienced that exact phenomenon in the summer of 2011, in the midst of an extreme drought.

And as climate change continues to increase average temperatures in Texas, the heat sucks out soil moisture and increases precipitation rates, exacerbating the impacts of such droughts.

Texas is more vulnerable to water shortages because of rapid population growth in urban areas that is expected to dramatically increase the demand for limited water supplies.

Higher nighttime temperatures brought by climate change also exacerbate health impacts from ozone pollution, and several metropolitan areas in Texas are already failing on federal air quality standards.

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And increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns alter Texas’ existing ecosystem to newly accommodate different insects and animals, which could bring a rise in new and existing pests as well as invasive species, adversely impacting Texas’ farmers and ranchers. The new pests will “dramatically” increase the risk of diseases to the public and agriculture, the EPA wrote.

The climate adaptation plan warns such problems will pose a challenge for existing federal regulations. For example, the EPA’s regulations will need to keep up with new pesticides developed to address that rise in agricultural pests.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement the climate adaptation plans mark “significant progress” for the EPA’s efforts to protect human health and the environment as climate change increases the strain on the nation’s infrastructure and communities.

“We need to take actions to ensure a safe, resilient, and equitable future,” Regan said.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.