Two weeks before Harvey’s flood waters engulfed much of Houston, U.S. President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by his predecessor that would have made it easier for storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to rebuild bridges, roads and other structures so they can better withstand future disasters.
Now, with much of the nation’s fourth-largest city underwater, Trump’s move has new resonance. Critics note the president’s order could force Houston and other cities to rebuild hospitals and highways in the same way and in the same flood-prone areas.
The order Trump revoked would have permitted the rebuilding to take into account climate scientists’ predictions of stronger storms and more frequent flooding.
Bridges and highways, for example, could be rebuilt higher, or with better drainage. The foundation of a new fire station or hospital might be elevated an extra metre.
“Rebuilding while ignoring future flood events is like treating someone for lung cancer and then giving him a carton of cigarettes on the way out the door,” said Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental and climate change law at Columbia University. “If you’re going to rebuild after a bad event, you don’t want to expose yourself to the same thing all over again.”
Trump’s action is one of several ways the president, who has called climate change a hoax, has tried to wipe away former president Barack Obama’s efforts to make the United States more resilient to threats posed by the changing climate.
While scientists caution against blaming specific weather events like Harvey on climate change, warmer air and warmer water linked to global warming have long been projected to make such storms wetter and more intense. Houston, for example, has experienced three floods in three years that statistically were once considered one-in-500-year events.
Rebuilding facilities the same way
The government was still in the process of implementing Obama’s 2015 order when it was rescinded. That means the old standard — rebuilding storm-ravaged facilities in the same way they had been built before — is still in place.
Trump revoked Obama’s order as part of an executive order of his own that…