President Trump has decided to revoke the Federal Flood Protection Standard, making communities less safe and exposing the country to greater damage from disastrous flood events.
The flood protection standard required federally-funded infrastructure, like public housing, hospitals, fire stations, and highways, to be built with a higher margin of safety against extreme floods and sea level rise.
If left in place, the standard would have helped reduce the loss of these services—protecting lives, lowering disaster costs, and saving taxpayer dollars. However, President Trump has continued to demonstrate his capacity for myopic leadership by committing America to paying billions of dollars in future damages, making the nation more vulnerable.
The Federal Flood Protection Standard Made America Safer
Under the standard, Federal agencies were directed to use more protective siting and design requirements for infrastructure projects that receive federal funding, like affordable housing, hospitals, and emergency response facilities. Projects were to be located outside of low-lying areas vulnerable to flooding whenever possible or, if not possible, buildings and facilities were to be raised so they were less likely to be damaged by rising flood waters.
For example, if the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is funding the construction of public housing, then the flood protection standard would require that the homes be built on higher ground, rather than low lying areas prone to flooding. But if no other site was available, then the homes would need to be elevated to reduce the potential for floodwaters to cause damage and leave people stranded.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s actions today likely mean that HUD’s proposed rule that incorporated the flood protection standard into their criteria for funding public housing will never be adopted. Presently, over 11,000 HUD-funded public housing units are located in the 100-year floodplain. And public housing once it is severely damaged, often takes years to rebuild, if it is rebuilt at all. This leaves working families stranded. Therefore, revoking of the flood protection standard is likely to hit low-income Americans the hardest.
High Costs of Flooding
However, the long-term impacts of Trump’s decision will extend beyond low-income communities. Flooding is already the nation’s most common and costly disaster. Since August 2016, Americans have suffered multiple flooding and severe storm events, resulting in billions of dollars of damages. And the Federal government foots a significant amount of the bill when disasters strike.
Between 1998 and 2014, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spent $48.6 billion in the wake of floods and coastal storms to repair or replace public buildings ($12.6 billion), public utilities ($7.4 billion), roads and bridges ($5.5 billion), and water-control facilities like levees, dams, and pumps ($1 billion), with the remainder spent on clean-up and emergency actions. These dollar amounts represent only a fraction of the total the Federal government spends to help Americans recover from flood disasters.
Like HUD, FEMA had proposed similar regulations to implement the flood protection standard. The proposed regulations would have required public infrastructure and facilites damaged in a flood to be rebuilt stronger to reduce the likelihood of the same kind of damage from happening again and again. But now that President Trump has revoked the flood protection standard, FEMA, and thus taxpayers, will continue to pay to repeatedly rebuild these facilities in the same location and with the same vulnerabilities.
These costs will continue to grow as the effects of climate change exacerbate flooding nationwide. Flooding already occurs with greater frequency in both the Midwest and Northeast, a trend that is expected to continue as the rate and severity of heavy downpours increases.
Thus, American taxpayers will be on the hook to constantly rebuild flood damaged public infrastructure. Costing the economy more money in the long-run than the costs associated with having to build taxpayer-funded infrastructure safer. President Trump has chosen to put short-term private interests over the well-being of Americans.
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The lower Midwest is still recovering after severe flooding swept through the region in early May. Climate change is loading the dice in favor of making such occurrences more common. Bad news for infrastructure, like bridges, hospitals, and water treatment facilities, and the people who depend on it, in flood-prone regions.
The proposed standards will better protect people and property by requiring HUD-financed infrastructure, located in a floodplain, to be constructed to a higher level of resilience.
We know from hard-earned experience that we need to build smarter and safer. But the nation has been extremely slow to act on that experience. Now climate change is making it essential that we get ahead of the curve.