By Joel Scata, Natural Resources Defense Council
Hurricane Harvey will be one of the nation’s largest flood disasters and the storm is not over yet. An uncounted number of homes are heavily damaged. Hospitals, nursing homes, and critical roadways are severely flooded and unusable. Most tragically, the loss of life is projected to rise.
After the flood waters have receded, the region will turn its attention to recovery and rebuilding, and will need federal assistance. Like after other major disasters, there will be talk about building back stronger and more resilient. Unfortunately, President Trump hamstrung the nation’s ability to turn such talk into tangible action when he rescinded widely-supported federal flood protection standards just 11 days prior to Harvey making landfall. These standards would have required that all federally funded construction projects, including the rebuilding of public buildings and infrastructure in the wake of flood disasters, like Harvey, are built with an additional margin of safety for future floods.
By revoking the flood protection standard, President Trump has tied the hands of agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD). FEMA and HUD both had rules pending, which if permitted to be implemented, would have required Harvey-damaged critical infrastructure, like hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency service facilities, rebuilt with federal disaster aid to elevated or flood-proofed to a 500-year flood event.
The nation must help communities impacted by Harvey recover. In the immediate, supporting aid organizations, like the Red Cross, is a priority for assisting survivors. (Here is a link to donate). Long-term, the nation will need to help these communities rebuild, and rebuild stronger. Failing to ensure these communities are resilient to future floods is not acceptable. The federal flood protections standards, created from the lessons learned rebuilding post-Sandy, would have ensured infrastructure damaged or destroyed by flooding, was rebuilt safer – not to the status quo – by requiring it to be better protected from future flood events.
Unfortunately, President Trump eliminated this crucial flood protection standard shortly before Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast. President Trump’s short-sighted action will ensure that not only will impacted communities remain vulnerable, but also, will ensure that taxpayers will continue to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in disaster-related spending.