Under the guise of trying to streamline approvals for badly-needed infrastructure, Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier this week that rolls back federal efforts to plan for the local impacts of climate change and sea level rise.
“The White House confirmed that the order issued Tuesday would revoke an earlier executive order by former President Barack Obama that required recipients of federal funds to strongly consider risk management standards when building in flood zones, including measures such as elevating structures from the reach of rising water,” the Washington Post reports. “Obama’s Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established in 2015, sought to mitigate the risk of flood damage charged to taxpayers when property owners file costly claims.”
A White House official added that the order won’t impede “state and local agencies from using a more stringent standard if they choose.”
The core of the plan is a “one federal decision policy,” the New York Times notes, under which all federal permitting for new infrastructure projects will have to be completed within 90 days. “It’s going to be a very streamlined process, and by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it,” Trump claimed, in a news conference largely dominated largely by his continuing fulminations on the white nationalist violence at Charlottesville, VA.
While the measure drew support from some Republican legislators, it took fire from all sides of the political spectrum, with the conservative R Street Institute warning that it will saddle the federal government with higher costs for flood damage.
“Taxpayers have been made to shell out hundreds of billions of dollars in disaster-related spending over the past decade, including more than US$136 billion for just the two years from 2011 to 2013,” said Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann. “By contrast, evidence shows that every $1 spent on disaster mitigation can save $4 in post-disaster recovery and rebuilding costs.”
“This order will put people throughout the country at risk by allowing developers to ignore potential hazards while muzzling the public’s ability to weigh in on potentially harmful projects near their homes,” said Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters.
“This is just another example of this administration trying to undo everything the Obama administration did, whether it makes any sense or not,” added American Rivers President William Robert Irvin. “Directing federal agencies to ignore the impact of flooding in spending federal dollars is just a complete waste of taxpayer money, and continues this administration’s head-in-the-sand approach to the perils of climate change, which is resulting in increased flooding.”
While Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said costly regulation is a greater threat than the storms and inundations his state routinely faces, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), co-chair of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, had other ideas.
“This executive order is not fiscally conservative,” he said. “It’s irresponsible and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing, and we know is only going to get worse.”
The Washington Post notes that the executive order hits at a moment when the National Flood Insurance Program is up for congressional reauthorization and is $25 billion in debt, with no ability to repay the funds.