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Trump pulls the plug on flood risk management standard

Posted On: Aug. 16, 2017 9:17 AM CST

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order revoking the establishment of a federal flood risk management standard.

The order, signed on Tuesday, revokes an executive order signed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 30, 2015, to establish the standard and a stakeholder input process.

The Obama executive order stated: “It is the policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and federal assets against the impacts of flooding. These impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats. Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security.”

President Obama’s executive order amended a 1977 executive order on floodplain management that required federal agencies to avoid the long- and short-term adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains and to avoid direct or indirect support of floodplain development wherever there is a practicable alternative, according to Obama’s order.

The 2015 executive order built on an interagency effort to create a new flood risk reduction standard for federally funded projects, with the framework designed to increase resilience against flooding and help preserve the natural values of floodplains.

SmarterSafer, a Washington-based coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, expressed disappointment in Trump’s rollback of the standard in a statement on Tuesday.

“Smart mitigation strategies better protect lives, property and taxpayer dollars,” the coalition said. “We disagree with (Tuesday’s) executive order, and hope the president will reconsider his decision so that our country can reduce the loss of lives and property to disasters and reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on rebuilding and repairing communities after a major storm strikes. Studies show that every dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves $4 in post-disaster recovery and rebuilding costs. As the White House prepares to roll out its ambitious infrastructure plan and as Congress works to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, we urge lawmakers to incorporate comprehensive mitigation strategies that protect infrastructure investments from a future of more frequent natural disasters.”

The conservative R Street Institute think tank also warned that revocation of the Obama executive order would put taxpayers at risk by undermining efforts to ensure federal projects comply with commonsense and cost-effective disaster-mitigation strategies.

“Taxpayers have been made to shell out hundreds of billions of dollars in disaster-related spending over the past decade, including more than $136 billion for just the two years from 2011 to 2013,” R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann in Washington said in a statement on Tuesday.

The institute noted that the Trump budget called for $667 million in cuts from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s state and local grant funding, including the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, in addition to eliminating the NFIP’s $190 million discretionary appropriation for its Flood Hazard Mapping Program. That program is designed to update decades-old maps FEMA uses to set NFIP rates, which Mr. Lehmann said was a significant contributing factor in why the NFIP fails to collect appropriate risk-based rates. The NFIP is in debt to the tune of $24.6 billion.

“While we share the president’s concern that the current trajectory of federal spending is unsustainable, cutting investments in effective disaster mitigation only serves to exacerbate that problem over the long term,” he said. “As the White House prepares to roll out a massive infrastructure package, we would hope it will not similarly be so shortsighted and ill-considered.”