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Trump Killed Flood Safety Plan Before Hurricane Harvey Struck

The Trump administration eliminated regulations designed to help protect infrastructure during disasters like Hurricane Harvey. (Associated Press)

Just 10 days before Hurricane Harvey began to devastate Texas coastal regions, President Trump rolled back regulations designed to help infrastructure projects survive this kind of flood.

The regulations were part of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established under President Obama in 2015. According to The New York Times, Trump’s elimination of the regulations are part of his effort to unravel the former administration’s climate change agenda, citing cost issues as a reason. The Times writes:

But environmental activists, flood plain managers and some conservatives had urged the Trump administration to preserve it, arguing that it protected critical infrastructure and taxpayer dollars.

“The Trump administration’s decision to overturn this is a disaster for taxpayers and the environment,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. He described the Obama order as a common-sense measure to prevent taxpayer money from being sunk into projects threatened by flooding.

A White House official said that Mr. Trump’s order reinstated the previous flood management standard, issued by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, but that it did not prohibit state and local agencies from using more stringent standards if they chose.

The Obama-era rule gave federal agencies three options to flood-proof new infrastructure projects. They could use the best available climate change science; they could require that standard projects like roads and railways be built two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard and critical buildings like hospitals be built three feet higher; or they could require infrastructure to be built to at least the 500-year flood plain. The order did not regulate private development.

In his press conference earlier this month, Trump said the motivation for rescinding these infrastructure protections was to “slash the time it takes” to approve new infrastructure projects. He also said, “We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking, and the permitting process will go very, very quickly.”

Emergency management specialists and environmental activists were quick to criticize the action. Newsweek writes:

Trump’s decision to roll back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was praised by business groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, which said flood regulations had pushed up the cost of housing. But the decision was criticized by environmental groups, Reuters reports.

Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the news service that Trump was undoing “the most significant action taken in a generation” to protect infrastructure from climate change.

“Eliminating this requirement is self-defeating. We can either build smarter now or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods. And it will,” he added.

An op-ed in Politico addressed the critical problem of flooding and applauded Obama-era regulations for the protection they offered:

The standard also ensures that in an era of rising deficits and tight budgets, tax dollars are spent on projects that will not merely be washed away in the next storm. The rules establish consistent guidelines based on up-to-date science on flooding while protecting federal investments in an effort to ensure that limited federal resources are not wasted. While many Americans may think flooding is only a problem for coastal regions prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, it is far more widespread than that and can devastate any state or region across the country. In just the past five years, all 50 states have experienced flood damage.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement: “This is climate science denial at its most dangerous, as Trump is putting vulnerable communities, federal employees, and families at risk by throwing out any guarantee that our infrastructure will be safe.”

Many environmental advocates have cited the impossibility of predicting the magnitude of flooding as a key reason for the regulations to be reinstated. Especially in light of Hurricane Harvey, the president’s first priority should be protecting infrastructure and lives, not trying to erase the Obama years.

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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