Trump Should Not Cut Action on Climate Impacts

East Grand Forks, MN, FEMA News Photo, Dave Saville

The Trump administration has been very clear about its desire to dismantle the nation’s plan to reduce the pollution that causes climate change. The administration has said nothing about whether it will similarly dismantle policies to deal with the inevitable impacts of climate change, like natural disasters.

Like it or not, the Trump administration can’t avoid natural disasters, which are projected to get worse because of climate change. Smart policies that can lower the amount of damage are appealing to people of all political persuasions—even climate deniers. As a result, these policies could avoid the chopping block.

One idea that may survive is a proposal from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that would encourage states to reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and coastal storms. The proposal is known as a “disaster deductible.” It would work just like your health or auto insurance deductible. Before your insurance company picks up the bill, you are personally responsible for some portion of the cost, and that portion may be higher if you are at greater risk of an accident, for instance. 

Under FEMA’s disaster deductible, states would have to cover their fair share of disaster expenses before federal taxpayers help pick up the tab. States could lower their deductible by lowering their potential for costly damages. They could do this by adopting better controls on coastal and floodplain development, improving building codes, making their infrastructure more resilient or taking other actions which foster greater resiliency to natural disasters. States that are smarter and safer will pay a lower deductible, just like a safe driver pays less than one who drives dangerously.  

This is a good idea and one that has support from groups across the political spectrum. In a story that appeared in Bloomberg, a Vice President of the conservative Heritage Foundation who served on President Trump’s transition team said, "If you’re a good-government person, there’s a lot of common sense in this," adding that the deductible idea is, "fiscally responsible and politically feasible." 

This isn’t the only climate-related policy on which environmentalists, fiscal conservatives, and others agree. Federal flood protection standards are another one. Updated in 2015, these standards require federal agencies to factor in an additional margin of safety when funding construction projects like schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, and water treatment plants. In coastal areas, future projections of sea level rise should also be taken into account, so federal taxpayers don’t get stuck paying for a facility that goes under water.

Two federal agencies, FEMA and HUD, have already adopted regulations to enforce the standard, but they are in limbo due to the President’s hold on all federal regulations. 

The President would be wise to let these good ideas move ahead. He’s wrong when it comes to cutting the Clean Power Plan and other measures to combat the causes of climate change. And he’ll be doubly wrong if he also cuts policies that prepare us for the impacts of climate change.

About the Authors

Rob Moore

Senior Policy Analyst, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program
Blog Post

The ocean is going to be significantly higher than previously understood, according to the latest national assessment of sea level rise.Will President Trump and his appointees roll back policies to address the impacts of climate change—like sea level rise.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.