With tens of thousands of people displaced and many billions of dollars in estimated damages from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, an environmental group on Tuesday filed a formal request on Tuesday to discover why the Trump administration recently decided to lift flood zone restrictions designed to mitigate these kinds of costly disasters.
As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Trump reversed an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2015 which established infrastructure regulations aimed at making sure federally-funded projects including buildings, bridges, and roads are designed to withstand the effects of climate change. Obama's directive included new building standards for flood-prone areas, including a regulation that required structures in such regions to be elevated by at least two feet to help prevent flooding.
By filing a Freedom of Information Act request, the Center for Biological Diversity said it "aims to unearth the factors influencing" Trump's order and would be looking for "evidence that the Trump administration rescinded the flood-protection standard because it was grounded in climate science or because it was enacted by Obama—or both."
Obama's regulations were meant to discourage the building of federally-funded projects in flood zones. It was put in place after New York and New Jersey's recovery from Hurricane Sandy, which hit the area in 2012. As the Guardian reported Tuesday, rebuilding after Sandy took place in areas that were likely to be affected with more flooding in the future—especially with sea levels rising.
Federal, state and municipal government agencies poured billions into repairs for flood-damaged public transit, public housing and other types of infrastructure. With no standard in place, much of the federal money spent on rebuilding ended up supporting projects in flood zones."
"Harvey's devastation illustrates the danger of Trump's order to disregard flood risks to life-sustaining infrastructure on our coasts," said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "With climate change making storms like Harvey more powerful, slashing protections for the safety of millions of Americans in flood-prone areas is just unacceptable."
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The Guardian also noted that much of the public housing that many low-income Americans rely on has historically been built in flood-prone areas, which are "inexpensive for housing authorities to purchase...According to HUD, more than 11,000 public housing buildings—5 percent of the total—are in flood zones."
When announcing his infrastructure plan on August 15, Trump touted the plan's promise of speedy approval processes for construction projects, without concerns about potential damage to structures by events like Hurricanes Sandy and Harvey. "We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively—relatively speaking—and the permitting process will go very, very quickly," he said. "No longer will we tolerate one job-killing delay after another."
But according to The Nation's John Nichols, a key reason the Trump administration terminated the rule was because "politically influential real-estate developers and builders lobbied for overturning Obama’s order."
350.org noted in a statement that the president's disregard for climate science and support of the oil and gas industries could contribute to more events like Harvey, while his lack of concern for safety standards will directly impact those who live in the flooded areas left by the storm:
While Donald Trump claims that "protecting lives" is his highest priority, it is his own policies that will make recovery from superstorms like Hurricane Harvey much worse. This is an unnatural disaster fueled by the reckless climate denial that is a hallmark of this administration...While Trump assures swift rebuilding, we know that his short-sighted and destructive policies ensures that if another extreme weather disaster occurs, coastal cities and towns like Houston and Corpus Christi will continue to suffer the consequences of the recklessness of fossil fuel billionaires and the politicians they employ.
"The death and destruction in south Texas offer a grim preview of the human cost of Trump’s denial of science," Wolf said. "As we look at Hurricane Harvey's devastating effects, Americans need to know why Trump refuses to protect coastal communities from future catastrophic flooding."