President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would streamline the approval process for building infrastructure such as roads, bridges and offices by eliminating a planning step related to climate change and flood dangers.
(From the Washington Post / by Darryl Fears and Steven Mufson) — Speaking in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Trump said that the approval process for projects was “badly broken” and that the nation’s infrastructure was a “massive self-inflicted wound on our country.” Trump said that “no longer” would there be “one job-killing delay after another” for new projects. But he did not provide any proposal on how his much-promised infrastructure program would be financed or what it would include.
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. 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.
Climate scientists warn that sea levels will rise substantially in the coming decades, and they say that long-term infrastructure projects will probably face more frequent and serious flood risks.
A White House official said the order will not stop “state and local agencies from using a more stringent standard if they choose.”
The fight over flood planning comes as Congress is set in September to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program that pays insurance claims. The beleaguered program is nearly $25 billion in debt, an obligation its administrator, Roy Wright, said he can’t repay.
Conservationists complained that the new order will weaken environmental standards that guard against flood risk. And they’ve found common cause with conservative think tanks worried about saddling the federal government with the burden of paying for flood damage in the future.
“Taxpayers have been made to shell out hundreds of billions of dollars in disaster-related spending over the past decade, including more than $136 billion for just the two years from 2011 to 2013,” R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the conservative R Street Institute, said in a statement opposing Trump’s anticipated order. “By contrast, evidence shows that every $1 spent on disaster mitigation can save $4 in post-disaster recovery and rebuilding costs.”
“This is just another example of this administration trying to undo everything the Obama administration did, whether it makes any sense or not,” said William Robert Irvin, president of American Rivers, an advocacy and conservation group. “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.”