As Hurricane Harvey continues to substantially impact the state of Texas with torrential rains and flooding, the storm's devastation has unfortunately also served as a reminder that, earlier this month, President Donald Trump rolled back flood regulations designed to help infrastructure survive catastrophic weather events. While this news was announced in mid-August, it is particularly jarring to reflect upon in the wake of Harvey's destruction.
The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, the flood regulations which Trump rolled back, were established by the Obama administration in 2015. These regulations dictated that infrastructure projects, like bridges and roads, had to be designed to withstand sea level rises and other ramifications of climate change. While these standards had not yet been implemented, as FEMA had been soliciting implementation input, Trump decided this month that he believed the regulations were unwieldy and would cause infrastructure construction delays.
In his press conference earlier this month announcing the rollback of these regulations, Trump noted that the impetus behind his decision to rescind these protections stemmed from a desire to "slash the time it takes" to approve new infrastructure projects. Trump also stated that, "We're going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking, and the permitting process will go very, very quickly."
When Trump announced his decision to roll back these flood regulations, he was extensively criticized by emergency management specialists as well as by environmental activists. Indeed, the former director of public affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rafael Lemaitre, told Reuters that Trump was undoing "the most significant action taken in a generation" to protect infrastructure.
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.
Moreover, an environmental advocate and an insurance industry advocate also wrote a joint op-ed in POLITICO condemning the president's decision and warning of the risks posed by floods, both after catastrophic weather events and in day-to-day life.
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.
On the flip side, those who praised Trump's decision to roll back flood regulations consisted of several business groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, which had expressed concern about rising construction costs.
On Twitter, many users appeared aghast and infuriated that Trump had undone these regulations just weeks prior to Hurricane Harvey. Multiple Twitter users accused the president of rescinding these regulations as a means of attempting to dismantle former president Obama's legacy — and disregarding the consequences in the process.
Time will tell if, in light of Harvey, Trump will reconsider his roll back of these regulations or proceed with rescinding them as planned. However, one can be sure that, if Trump does refuse to reinstate these regulations, many members of the public will probably not look very favorably on his decision, to say the least.