After rolling back flood standards last month, Trump administration has change of heart

After Harvey, the administration isn't as enthusiastic about deregulation.

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, near Beaumont, Texas. CREDIT: AP/David J. Phillip
Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, near Beaumont, Texas. CREDIT: AP/David J. Phillip

As flooding from Hurricane Harvey continues to threaten the safety and well-being of Texans, the Trump administration is reportedly reconsidering its approach to flood standards. Last month, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era standards that were meant to ensure infrastructure would be more resilient to flooding and rising sea levels.

The situation is still dire for Texans this weekend, particularly in Beaumont, where people lack power and clean running water. According to KHOU, authorities are concerned about more flooding. Now hundreds of people are being bused to shelters in San Antonio. The waters that have already damaged Texans’ homes now threatens their health. In Harris County, more than 10 percent of all structures were damaged by flooding, and mold can start growing just a couple days after the flooding occurred, according to USA Today. The flood water itself is dangerous, with its high levels of sewage.

On Monday, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Lon estimated 450,000 people had already been directly affected and that the hurricane would leave 30,000 people homeless.

After seeing the damage of Hurricane Harvey, the Trump administration is rethinking its approach to flood standards, the Washington Post reported. The administration is thinking about whether or not to issue similar requirements to the ones they reversed, which would ensure roads and bridges are built higher in areas where there are concerns about flooding. When Trump first announced the reversal of the rules, he said the standards would slow down the approval process. He said delays in the permitting process were “job-killing.”

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told the Post that the administration was already planning to replace the standard Trump rolled back last month. The new, Trump-administration approved standards would have been part of a “broader executive order on infrastructure.” After seeing the damage from Harvey, Bossert told the Post, “It might expedite our efforts to reach coordinated consensus here as we institute policy.”

Roy Wright, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation would not tell the Post what the height level requirements would be, but he did mention federal officials’ standards for new projects built after Hurricane Sandy. The administration hasn’t made a final decision on the issue, however.

It’s unlikely, however, that the administration will change its approach to climate change after the disaster. Climate change strengthened the hurricane, since warmer waters allow the wind speed to intensify, which made the rainfall worse. Rising seal levels also created a more dangerous storm surge. The administration has rolled back progress made on climate change during the Obama administration in a number of ways. President Trump said he would fully withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and the administration has rescinded or paused almost every federal policy that was supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump’s proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency would result in widespread layoffs and would have defund a number of its programs.