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Jan Lee headshot

Trump Reversal of Flood Risk Standards Will Hurt Communities Like Houston

By Jan Lee

An executive order that President Donald Trump signed only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week is receiving brusk criticism from lawmakers and environmental organizations this week.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, called Trump's reversal of the Obama-era Federal Flood Risk Management Standard "irresponsible.  [The reversal] will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse," Curbelo said in a statement.

The reversal lifts federal requirements for climate change and sea-level rise to be taken into account when reviewing standards for construction projects. According to the Trump administration, the rule caused unnecessary red tape that would have slowed construction projects. Trump has promised to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, including bridges and freeways and do so expeditiously.

"No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay," Trump vowed before the Aug. 15 of an executive order that rescinded Obama's food risk standards.

But according to experts, Trump's removal of the standards could force the country to spend more money on aid and create more problems for cities impacted by events like Hurricane Harvey.

According to Joel Scata, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the new standards were an effort to build on the learning experiences of two previous disasters, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which brought about widespread damage in areas whose infrastructure was ill-equipped to withstand a record hurricane.

"This not only would have protected people and property from future flood events, but also was really meant to reduce the amount of disaster aid we spend on recovery," Scata told Business Insider.

By speeding up construction processes and circumventing reviews that are meant to determine whether there is increased environmental risk in the area, experts fear places like Houston, which will take years to rebuild, will repeat the mistakes of the past. Engineers and design experts are attributing Houston's substantial flooding to poorly designed infrastructure and a lack of climate mitigation.

Other organizations, like R Street Institute, a free-market think tank that focuses on complex public policy issues, points out that it's often human expansion that is at the core of how communities are affected by events like hurricanes.

"Most of the increase in disasters is not actually due to changes in the weather but changes in human living patterns," RJ Lehmann, told NPR. So rebuilding without considering the vulnerabilities to climate change will only become more costly for communities, he said.

And the Center for Biological Diversity is raising questions about the issues that prompted Trump to rescind the standards in the first place. it has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to Trump's executive order. The Center says it wants to understand the factors that led to Trump's decision, so it is asking to unearth records from agencies that would either have been impacted by the decision or have insight into the rationale. An FOIA request was sent Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as the Council on Environmental Quality and Council on Economic Advisors.

Shaye Wolf, the Center's climate science director said Trump's dismissal of climate change -- which the president has gone on record to call a "hoax" -- puts cities like Houston at risk if they are rebuilt without proper consideration of the environmental factors that increase the chance of damage in a natural disaster. The Center wants to determine whether Trump's decision to throw out the standards was based on a rejection of climate change risks or the fact that the standards were implemented by Obama, whose work Trump has largely rejected to date.

"The death and destruction in south Texas offer a grim preview of the human cost of Trump’s denial of science. As we look at Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effects, Americans need to know why Trump refuses to protect coastal communities from future catastrophic flooding," Wolf said in a statement.

With his recent visit to areas devastated by Harvey, Trump has promised to do all he can to support and ensure funding for rebuilding communities hit hard by the hurricane. The question is whether it will be enough if more storms like Harvey come to ground.

Image: Flickr/Bill Bradford



Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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