Monday, March 13, 2017

The Big Winner in Donald Trump’s Decision to Fire Preet Bharara Might Be Rupert Murdoch

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Throughout his six-decade career working on three continents, Rupert Murdoch has used his media properties to advance the prospects of politicians whose policies help his business interests. Whether it was Margaret Thatcher’s union-busting in the 1980s or Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to put Fox News on Time Warner’s cable system in the 1990s, Murdoch went all-out for leaders who allowed him to protect and expand his corporate empire.
Since Election Day, Murdoch, now the executive chairman of Fox News, has personally nudged the network in a more pro-Trump direction, sources tell me. That effort included anointing Trump-friendly Tucker Carlson as the successor to Megyn Kelly as host in the 9 p.m. slot. Fox News staffers are also grumbling that segments now have to fit a “pro-Trump narrative,” one insider told me. Trump seems to be returning the goodwill: He asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC commissioner and tweeted praise for Fox News. He’s even taken policy ideas from the network. Now Murdoch may be poised to reap a much bigger win from a Trump administration action.
That’s because on Saturday Trump oversaw the firing of Preet Bharara, the U.S attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, whose office is in the middle of a high-profile federal investigation of Fox News. The probe, according to sources, is looking at a number of potential crimes, including whether Fox News executives broke laws by allegedly obtaining journalists’ phone records or committed mail and wire fraud by hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused Roger Ailes of sexual harassment. Sources told me that prosecutors have been offering witnesses immunity to testify before a federal grand jury that’s already been impaneled.
Trump’s decision to fire Bharara ignited speculation that it was designed to blunt investigations like the Fox News probe. In November, Trump had promised Bharara he could remain in the job. But on Friday, he reversed course and requested Bharara’s resignation along with 45 other Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys. (Adding to the intrigue, Trump’s prosecutor purge came less than 24 hours after Sean Hannity said on Fox News that Trump should “purge” the Justice Department of Obama-appointed officials.)
Given that Fox News is Murdoch’s most profitable division, the prospect of indictments is a serious problem. “They’re really worried,” one source close to the network said. Another insider said that Fox News executives considered the investigation “political” because Bharara had been appointed by Barack Obama. Which is why, for Murdoch, it must be a relief that Bharara’s replacement could be an ally. According to the Times, Trump’s short list to replace Bharara includes Marc Mukasey — who just happens to be former Fox News chief Roger Ailes’s personal lawyer.
Considering Mukasey’s close relationship with Ailes, he would surely come under pressure to recuse himself from the Fox News probe if he were appointed by Trump to succeed Bharara. “I have no comment,” Mukasey said when I reached him on Sunday evening and asked if he planned to do so, should he get the job.

Could the individual insurance market collapse in some states? Here’s how that could happen

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Much of the early analysis of the Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) has focused on the change in subsidies for people purchasing coverage in the individual health insurance market. The plan does away with subsidies and instead offers tax credits to help people pay for health insurance.
While the change is important, it may be a moot point if there is no individual health insurance market to subsidize.
That distinct possibility depends on how states and the federal government administer the AHCA, should it become law. The House Ways and Means Committee approved the AHCA March 9 and moved forward, despite significant resistance from groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and AARP.

Not truly a repeal

First, we should recognize that the AHCA does not fully repeal the Affordable Care Act. It retains the ACA’s rate regulation: Insurers must offer everyone coverage regardless of illness or preexisting conditions.
It also changes some of the incentives for consumers to purchase care.
This change is very significant because reducing incentives to purchase coverage may make the individual health insurance market disappear. That is because insurers base premiums on the average cost of claims of the individuals they enroll. If health insurers are required to cover anyone who accepts their premiums, the individuals most likely to sign up will be those with the greatest need for health care.
The individuals least likely to purchase coverage, if they purchase coverage at all, are healthy individuals with low probability of needing health care. This is known as adverse selection: Individuals select whether and how much health insurance to buy based on their own need for health care.
But when healthy individuals choose not to purchase health insurance, insurers are left with costs greater than their premium income. That forces insurers to increase their premiums, which in turn leads healthier individuals to drop coverage increasing average claims costs.
An adverse selection death spiral results when insurers can’t raise their premiums enough to cover their costs and they leave the market.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains several measures to address adverse selection. The ACA levied a tax on individuals who did not have health insurance – the individual mandate.
To help individuals pay for insurance that the law mandates, the ACA defines what percentage of a family’s income is considered an affordable cost for health insurance. It subsidizes the difference between that amount and the actual premium.

Insurers have been protected to keep them in the market

Insurers were initially given several protections against adverse selection. One was a reinsurance program for plans sold in the exchange. Reinsurance defrays some of the insurers expenses of high-cost enrollees.
Another was a risk corridor program that limited insurer losses if their premium income was less than the claims costs of their enrollees. Neither of these programs was sufficiently funded to work as intended, and both of them ended in 2016.
Risk adjustment is another method to address risk selection. It redistributes premium income among insurers in the same market in an attempt to ensure that insurers with fewer health enrollees have sufficient funds to cover their costs. The risk adjustment method used under the ACA has been criticized as not accurately measuring risk.
Although many individual health insurance markets appear to be functioning well, a number of insurers have withdrawn from the ACA’s individual health insurance market for 2017, citing heavy losses in the marketplaces. They attributed those losses to facing sicker patients in the individual market than they had anticipated.
Healthy consumers chose not to purchase insurance, while people needing care did. Insurers argued that there were not enough incentives or strong enough penalties to keep healthier individuals purchasing coverage.
Brett Hutchson (L) helps uninsured Wendell Edwards sign up for the Affordable Care Act in Jackson, Mississippi. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Incentives not strong enough to attract healthy people?

How does the House Republican plan address the danger of insurers of not offering care?
The House Republican plan changes the subsidies available to individuals and replaces the individual mandate with a penalty for those who purchase coverage after being uninsured. The ACA’s penalty for not buying coverage is 3 percent of adjusted gross income in every year a person does not buy coverage. The penalty under the Republicans’ American Health Care Act is a 30 percent higher premium for a year.
For example, a healthy 40-year-old whose income is US$40,000 faces a monthly premium of $400, or $4,800 a year. At her income ACA subsidy would be $1,392, making her net annual premium $3,408. If her premiums rise $50 a month ($600 annually) next year her subsidy would increase and she would still play $3,408 a year. If she chooses not to purchase coverage under the ACA she would pay a tax for being uninsured of $1,500 a year.
Under the House plan, a 40-year-old will be eligible for a $3,000 subsidy. Her net cost for coverage after the subsidy would be $1,800. If her premiums rise $50 a month ($600 annually) next year, her costs would increase to the $2,400. If she chooses not to buy coverage and never needed care she pays nothing: She’s saved $1,800 the first year and $2,400 the next.
If after a period of being uninsured, she becomes sick and needs care, however, her premium penalty is 30 percent of the $5,400 annual premium (assuming premiums don’t increase in the third year) which totals $1,620 for the next year. By waiting to purchase health insurance until she needs care, she has saved money.
If she remained uninsured one year and purchased coverage in the next year she would pay a penalty of $1,440 (30 percent of the premium of $4,800). If she remained uninsured for two years and needs to purchase coverage in the third year, she pays a penalty of $1,620. But now she is ill and needs medical care. The cost of the care she needs is likely to be greater than the premium she is paying, even with the 30 percent penalty.
Choosing to remain uninsured for two years cost this woman $3,000 under current law and a penalty of $1,620 under the House Republican plan. The premium subsidy for this woman is more generous at this premium under the House Republican plan but covers less of the costs as premiums increase. Under both plans an insurer would have to offer her coverage regardless of her health status when she chooses to purchase it. If she waits, her health care costs when she does purchase coverage are likely to exceed her premium. For an insurer, that results in an insurance market with losses that are not sustainable.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks about the American Health Care Act. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Not enough money for risk pools to keep premiums low for others

The American Health Care Act does allocate money to the states to create high-risk pools or develop new reinsurance programs to stabilize the individual health insurance markets. That would require states to create and administer the programs that relieve insurers from bearing the full costs of individuals like the person in the above example.
The bill allocates $15 billion in the first two years for market stabilization efforts and $10 billion annually until 2026.
A number of states had high-risk pools prior to the passage of the ACA, and the ACA funded a national Preexisting Condition Insurance Program (PCIP) prior to its full implementation in 2014. These programs covered between 2 and 12 percent of a state’s individual market, and were costly. Based on that experience, the money allocated in the bill would cover the increased costs of about 2 percent of the current individual insurance market. That may not be enough support to keep premiums low enough to attract sufficient numbers of healthier consumers to the individual health insurance market.

Depending on states’ actions, market could vanish

The American Health Care Act allows insurers to lower premiums for young people and increase premiums for older individuals. Currently, the ACA limits premiums for older enrollees to three times the premium for the youngest. The AHCA would increase that difference to five times.
The goal of that proposal is to decrease premiums for the younger and healthier to encourage them to buy health insurance coverage.
It will have the effect of increasing older individuals’ premium costs, encouraging the healthier of those individuals to remain uninsured until they are old enough for Medicare.
The total effect of these changes will depend entirely on how they are administered. Ensuring a sustainable individual health insurance market will require states to create and administer market stabilization programs such as high-risk pools or a reinsurance program with sufficient funding to keep premiums affordable.
States historically have taken widely different approaches to insurance regulation and currently have chosen different policies under the ACA. States may not have the resources or the regulatory expertise to maintain a fully funded market stabilization program. Insurers may not find it possible to offer coverage in states that don’t have such a stabilization program. If The American Health Care Act becomes law, it is entirely possible that in some states the market framework will result in no insurers offering coverage in the individual health insurance market.
One of the most high-profile problems with the ACA – insurers pulling out of the states’ individual health insurance marketplaces – may not be addressed under the House Republican bill, and may be compounded.

Curbing climate change has a dollar value — here’s how and why we measure it

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President Trump is expected to issue an executive order soon to reverse Obama-era rules to cut carbon pollution, including a moratorium on leasing public lands for coal mining and a plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
Trump and his appointees argue that these steps will bring coal miners’ jobs back (although coal industry job losses reflect competition from cheap natural gas, not regulations that have yet to take effect). But they ignore the fact that mitigating climate change will produce large economic gains.
While burning fossil fuels produces benefits, such as powering the electric grid and fueling cars, it also generates widespread costs to society – including damages from climate change that affect people around the world now and in the future. Public policies that reduce carbon pollution deliver benefits by avoiding these damages.
Since the Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to enact only regulations whose potential benefits to society justify or outweigh their potential costs. To quantify benefits from acting to curb climate change, the U.S. government developed a formal measure in 2009 of the value of reducing carbon pollution, which is referred to as the social cost of carbon, or SCC. Currently, federal agencies use an SCC figure of about US$40 per ton in today’s dollars.
Now the Trump administration and critics in Congress may reduce this figure or even stop using it. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent comment that carbon dioxide is not “a primary contributor” to climate change suggests that Pruitt may challenge the agency’s 2009 finding that carbon emissions are pollutants and threaten human health.
As an economist for the White House, I was a member of the working group that developed the first government-wide SCC estimate. We can always improve our processes for estimating and using the SCC, but getting rid of it would be a mistake. A well-functioning democracy needs transparency about the economic benefits of investments driven by public policy – as well as the benefits we give up when we walk away from making these investments.
As a result of human activities since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels have increased to 400 parts per million, higher than any time in at least the last one million years. US Global Change Research Program

The value of avoiding hurricanes and wildfires

Scientists widely agree that carbon dioxide emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels, pose significant risks to Earth’s climate. Intuitively, it makes sense that reducing carbon emissions benefits society by reducing risks of flooding, wildfires, storms and other impacts associated with severe climate change.
We can estimate the benefits of many goods and services, from pop music to recreation, from the prices people pay for them in markets. But valuing environmental benefits is not so simple. Americans can’t go to the store and buy a stable climate.
Carbon pollution drives global warming that causes many different impacts on the natural and built environment and human health. Because carbon emissions have such broad and diverse impacts, scholars have developed models to characterize the economic benefits (or costs) of reducing them.
Current U.S. government practice draws from three peer-reviewed integrated assessment models. An integrated assessment model represents a chain of events, starting with economic activities that involve fossil fuel combustion. This generates carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change.
And climate change causes outcomes that can be measured in monetary terms. For example, rising carbon pollution will increase the likelihood of lower agricultural yields, threaten public health through heat stress and damage infrastructure through floods and intense storms.
Flooding in Hoboken, New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of coastal storms.acarrino/FlickrCC BY-ND

Thousands of scenarios

The social cost of carbon represents the damages of one ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. To estimate it, economists run models that forecast varying levels of carbon dioxide emissions. They can then model and compare two forecasts – one with slightly higher emissions than the other. The difference in total climate change damages represents the social cost of carbon.
Carbon pollution can remain in the atmosphere for up to 200 years, so these models are run over a century or more in order to account for long-term damages that carbon emissions impose on society.
SCC estimates are based on chains of events that include many uncertainties – for example, how many tons of carbon will be emitted in a given year, the amount of warming that will result, and how severely this warming will exacerbate risks like floods and heat waves. Since we cannot predict any single scenario with certainty, the U.S. government has modeled hundreds of thousands of different scenarios to produce its SCC estimates.
Some model scenarios, based on admittedly extreme assumptions, produce negative SCC estimates – that is, they find that carbon pollution is good for the planet. But the vast majority of scenarios show that carbon pollution is bad for the planet, and that on average, every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere imposes damages equal to about $40 in today’s dollars.

Balancing costs and benefits of regulations

The federal government began calculating a social cost of carbon after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2007 that the Department of Transportation had to account for climate benefits from its regulations to improve automobile fuel economy. Environmental groups and a dozen states challenged the regulations, in part because the Bush administration had valued the benefits of cutting carbon dioxide emissions at zero.
In response, the Obama administration created a working group in 2009 with officials from 12 agencies to develop the federal government’s first official SCC estimate. Our initial figure of $25 for 2010 was updated in 20132015 and 2016, reflecting updates in the underlying models.
Agencies have used these estimates in benefit-cost analyses for scores of federal regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the Department of Transportation’s medium and heavy-duty vehicle fuel economy standards, and the Department of Energy’s minimum efficiency standard for refrigerators and freezers. Some of these studies were required only by executive order, but others were required by law. Unless the authorizing statutes are amended, the Trump administration will have to produce analyses accounting for carbon pollution reduction benefits if it wants to issue new regulations that can withstand legal challenges.
Fuel economy label for gasoline-powered vehicle. Federal agencies have have factored the social cost of carbon into regulations governing vehicle fuel economy and other issues.
The Trump administration could continue to use SCC estimates in regulatory evaluations, but water them down. For example, some scholars have called for focusing only on domestic benefits – as opposed to total global benefits – of reducing carbon pollution in the United States. Emitting a ton of carbon imposes damages in the United States and around the world, just as a ton emitted in Beijing imposes damages on the United States and other countries around the world. Considering only the domestic impacts of carbon pollution could lower the SCC by three-quarters.
But if the United States ignores the benefits of reducing carbon pollution that other countries enjoy, then those other countries may follow suit and consider only how cutting emissions will benefit them internally. This approach ignores the strategic value that serves as the primary motivation for countries to work together to combat climate change. The world would achieve much greater emissions reductions and greater net economic benefits if countries implement policies based on the global social cost of carbon instead of a domestic-only SCC.
As climate change science and economics continue to evolve, our tools for estimating benefits from reducing carbon pollution will need to evolve and improve. In January the National Academies of Sciences published a report that lays out an extensive research agenda for improving the estimation and use of the social cost of carbon.
The federal government has used used benefit-cost analysis to calculate society’s bottom line from regulations for decades. So far, the Trump administration appears to be focused solely on costs – an approach that maximizes the corporate bottom line, but leaves the public out of the equation.

Why prison building will continue booming in rural America

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The election of Donald Trump signals an end to the recent optimism about reducing the mass imprisonment of two million U.S. citizens each year.
Trump supports policies like the immigrant ban and increased stop-and-frisk that will undoubtedly lead to more arrests and strain an already bloated prison system.
After taking office, Trump signed an executive order authorizing the secretary of homeland security to “allocate all legally available resources to immediately construct, operate, control, or establish contracts to construct, operate, or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico.”
It seems clear that more American prisons are on the way.

The prison boom

While much has been written about mass incarceration, less is known about the prison building boom and the role it plays in slowing reform of the criminal justice system.
As I explain in my book, “Big House on the Prairie,” the number of prisons in the U.S. swelled between 1970 and 2000, from 511 to nearly 1,663. Prisons constructed during that time cover nearly 600 square miles, an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island. More than 80 percent of these facilities are operated by states, approximately 10 percent are federal facilities and the rest are private.
The prison boom is a massive public works program that has taken place virtually unnoticed because roughly 70 percent of prisons were built in rural communities. Most of this prison building has occurred in conservative southern states like Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas.

Much of how we think about prison building is clouded by the legacy of racism and economic exploitation endemic to the U.S. criminal justice system. Many feel that prison building is the end product of racist policies and practices, but my research turned up a more complicated relationship.
People of color have undoubtedly suffered from the expansion of prisons, where they are disproportionally locked up, but they have also benefited.
Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented among the nation’s 450,000 correctional officers. Prisons are also more likely to be built in towns with higher black and Latino populations. Many may be surprised to learn that residents of these often distressed rural communities view local prisons in a positive light.

Forrest City, Arkansas: One prison town

In 2007, I moved my family to Forrest City, Arkansas, a majority black town that welcomed a federal prison in 1997.
My hope was that by studying this one town I would gain greater insight on key questions: Why is America building so many prisons? Why now? And why in rural areas?
I quickly learned Forrest City choose to build a prison not simply in hopes of landing jobs or creating economic well-being, but also to protect and improve its reputation.
Wayne Dumond, right, is released on parole in 1999. Dumond was convicted of the rape of a 17-year-old high school cheerleader in Forrest City, Arkansas. While awaiting trial, Dumond was castrated at his home, he said by masked men.AP Photo/Spencer Tirey
Hosting an institution like a prison may not seem image-enhancing, but it makes sense in Forrest City. During the early 1980s, this town of roughly 13,000 gained national infamy that has been difficult to escape. A sordid tale that unfolded here – involving rape, castration, arson and violent protest – was chronicled on the TV news magazine “20/20” and in newspapers, and eventually became the subject of a book called “Unequal Justice.”
My own book examines the ways the prison economy takes shape and operates in towns like Forrest City. It provides a view into decision-making meetings and tracks the impact of prisons on economic development, poverty and race.
In Forrest City, support for the prison united the otherwise racially divided town.
Buddy Billingsly, a member of a prominent white land-owning family, saw the prison as a way to create jobs and new revenue for local utilities.
Many African-Americans in town believed that reducing racial disparities in mass imprisonment is a moral imperative, yet they supported building the prison. The late Coach Cecil Twillie, a prominent black leader in Forrest City, explained “he didn’t want his town to end up like Gary.” Gary, Indiana became the murder capital of the country and a symbol of urban blight during the 1980s.
Mayor Larry Bryant, formerly the local chapter president of the NAACP, also threw his support behind building the Forrest City Correctional Facility.
Because rural communities have grown increasingly dependent on prisons, they will not be easily convinced to give them up. My research shows that for many struggling rural communities plagued by problems most associate with urban neighborhoods – poverty, crime, residential segregation, deindustrialization and failing schools – prisons offer a means of survival. Prisons provide a short-term boost to the local economy by increasing median family income and home value while reducing unemployment and poverty.

Protecting a local industry

This survival instinct may explain why communities that have prisons are opposed to legislation like sentencing reform that would reduce the number of prisoners locked up in America.
Reforms like repealing three strikes are vital to reducing the number of people imprisoned. The Sentencing Project estimates that without sweeping sentencing reform it would take almost 90 years to return the prison population to its 1980 level.
Supporting a large number of prisons housing millions of inmates is expensive. In 2014, states spent US$55 billion on corrections, meaning the economic benefits to towns come at a high cost to taxpayers.
It doesn’t look like the footprint of prisons will be shrinking any time soon. Given our current political climate, it’s more likely we will see more prisons built.
Weaning rural communities off the prison economy will mean considering alternative investment strategies like green industries. If we do not provide creative alternatives to depressed rural communities, we stand little chance in reducing their over-reliance on prisons.

Sea Level Rise May Be Worse Than Previously Thought

Scenarios vary widely, but experts say planners shouldn’t ignore the high-end possibilities.

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A new technical report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that climate change-induced sea level rise over the course of this century, especially in Hawaii, may be far worse than predicted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenario that has been serving as a guide for a number of local efforts to address climate change impacts.
As a result, the state’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Report, due to the Legislature by year’s end, may be more useful as a guide for shorter-range planning for non-critical structures that can be moved or replaced relatively easily.

The local scientists and planners developing the SLR report, required by Act 83 of the 2014 Legislature, have based their inundation scenarios for coastal areas throughout the state on the IPCC’s “worst of the worst-case scenarios,” according to Dr. Chip Fletcher, University of Hawaii associate dean for the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

In that scenario, sea level rises about half a foot by 2030, a foot by 2050, 2 feet by 2075, and 3.2 feet (or roughly 1 meter) by 2100.
The NOAA report, however, suggests that the current melting rate of alpine glaciers and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as the rate of thermal ocean expansion, may cause sea levels globally to rise an average of 0.3 m (about a foot) in the low-consequence/high-probability scenario but up to an average of 2.5 meters (about 9 feet) in its extreme-consequence/low-probability scenario by 2100. Static-equilibrium effects will cause some regions around the globe to experience even higher sea levels, the report states, and the tropics is one of them.
“Hawaii is sitting in the worst region of all,” Fletcher said.
He and others working on the state’s SLR report had believed when they started that a 1-meter rise in sea level was an extreme scenario, which he said is appropriate for long-range planning of long-lived, expensive, critical structures or infrastructure such as a nuclear power plant or a hospital in the coastal zone. But under NOAA’s new projections, Hawaii is expected to see a 1.3-meter rise in sea level by 2100 under its intermediate case, he said. Under its most extreme, but least probable case, the state would see a 3.3-meter (nearly 11-foot) rise.
In light of NOAA’s new scenarios, Tetra Tech’s draft predictions for the SLR report are now far less speculative and much more reliable than they were before. Under a 3.2-foot rise in sea level, Tetra Tech as of press time had estimated that inundation impacts on Oahu alone could cost $11.8 billion, impact 9,400 acres and 3,800 structures, and displace 13,300 residents. The firm’s planner Kitty Courtney stressed at an SLR workshop that the economic impact reflects the potential cost if nothing is done to mitigate impacts.

‘Planning Envelope’

The NOAA report, titled “Global and Regional SLR Scenarios for the United States,” is the result of work begun in August 2015 for the Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Hazard Scenarios and Tools Task Force, a joint task force of the National Ocean Council and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Using the best available science, the task force is charged with developing future relative sea levels, associated coastal flood hazard scenarios, and tools to “serve as a starting point for on-the-ground coastal preparedness planning and risk management processes, including compliance with the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard,” the report states.
The report describes six global mean sea level (GMSL) rise scenarios: Low, Intermediate-Low, Intermediate, Intermediate-High, High and Extreme, ranging from most likely to least likely to occur.
In setting the upper bounds of its SLR projections for 2100, the scientists who produced the report assessed the latest literature on “scientifically supported upper-end GMSL projections, including recent observational and modeling literature related to the potential for rapid ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica.”
“The projections and results presented in several peer-reviewed publications provide evidence to support a physically plausible GMSL rise in the range of 2.0 meters to 2.7 (meters), and recent results regarding Antarctic ice-sheet instability indicate that such outcomes may be more likely than previously thought,” the report states.
Despite the low probability that sea levels will actually rise to 2.7 meters by the end of the century, the report’s authors warn against planners discounting this.
“For decisions involving long planning horizons and with a limited adaptive management capacity, the high degree of uncertainty in late-21st century GMSL rise looms large. Failure to adequately account for low-probability, high-consequence outcomes significantly increases future risks and exposure,” the report states. “For many decisions, it is essential to assess worst-case scenarios, not only those assessed as the scientifically ‘likely’ to happen.”
The report recommends that to assess a system’s overall risk and determine long-term adaptation strategies, planners should define a “scientifically plausible upper-bound (which might be thought of as a worst-case or extreme scenario) as the amount of sea level rise that, while low probability, cannot be ruled out over the time horizon being considered.”
For shorter-term planning, such as for adaptation strategies within the next 20 years, the report suggests that planners define a “central estimate or mid-range scenario (given assumptions about greenhouse gas emissions and other major drivers).”
“This scenario and the upper-bound scenario can together be thought of as providing a general planning envelope,” the report states.

Local Impacts

Although NOAA’s intermediate SLR scenario clearly anticipates a rise of more than 1 meter, the state’s report isn’t likely to include a robust analysis of a rise higher than that.
Fletcher, however, made it clear that NOAA’s higher-consequence scenarios would devastate certain coastal areas of the state. Under NOAA’s high scenario, he said, inundation would rise to the point where it would permanently drown Ewa Beach on Oahu’s south shore, which is home to tens of thousands of residents.
Tetra Tech’s Courtney, who also spoke at the workshop, presented several preliminary maps and charts indicating that even an increase in sea level of 1 to 3 feet could cause significant and widespread damage, especially when combined with increased erosion, annual high wave flooding, and a 1 percent annual chance of a coastal flood (also known as a 100-year flood).
A couple of the maps she displayed showed the numerous spots along Oahu’s coastal highway, including areas on the windward side and along Honolulu’s impending rail transit alignment, that would be vulnerable to inundation due to sea level rise. Another map highlighted the more than two dozen schools, hospitals and clinics, police and fire stations, and wastewater treatment plants within the Honolulu area that would be flooded by a 100-year flood under a 3.2-foot rise in sea level. And yet another showed that that flood area would extend a mile or more inland from the current FEMA VE zone boundary, where landowners are required to have flood insurance.
With regard to the potential impacts on the Honolulu rail transit system, Courtney noted, “Transit-oriented development is probably what we do really need to do … but on the other hand, we gotta make sure we’re taking into consideration some of these long-term impacts of sea level rise.”
Referring to some of her maps showing projected inundation on Oahu’s west and north shores, Courtney said that beaches are going to be lost and many of them are state parks or recreation areas. She also noted that increased erosion will also likely unearth or damage historic cultural sites, such as those at Kawela Bay.
“What do we need to do to protect a beach? … How do we continue to have beaches in the state?” she asked.
So far, no inundation charts for any of the outer islands have been presented. When the report is complete, Courtney indicated that the most thorough inundation and economic impact assessments in the report will be for the islands of Kauai, Maui and Oahu, for which there is a rich amount of historical data. “For Molokai and Lanai, we have some limitations in historical records for coastal erosion and annual high wave flooding,” she said.
An assessment for the Big Island will also be included.