Har­vey clar­i­fies our pri­or­i­ties

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - JAMAKAYA

As re­cov­ery ef­forts from Hur­ri­cane Har­vey pro­ceed, we need to think about the lessons learned from this disas­ter.

Un­for­tu­nately, our GOP-dom­i­nated ad­min­is­tra­tion and leg­is­la­tures are hos­tile to­ward most of these, mak­ing progress to­ward re­form a steep climb.

The Repub­li­can mantra for decades has been to slash gov­ern­ment spend­ing; re­move reg­u­la­tions on bank­ing, in­dus­try, zon­ing and con­struc­tion; down­size or elim­i­nate sci­en­tific re­search; and crip­ple pub­lic plan­ning based on sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise.

Hous­ton epit­o­mizes these ef­forts. In­ad­e­quate zon­ing and over-de­vel­op­ment of the Hous­ton metro area con­trib­utes to its flood­ing dan­ger. Prairie and swamp­lands were re­placed by con­crete sur­faces with lit­tle at­ten­tion to green spa­ces and wa­ter re­ten­tion ar­eas. Build­ing codes are al­most nonex­is­tent.

With a large swath of the area un­der wa­ter be­cause of this, how will Don­ald Trump re­spond? The good, old-fash­ioned GOP way: more cuts, less reg­u­la­tion.

De­spite the fact that disas­ter plan­ning, co­or­di­na­tion, re­cov­ery and relief are es­sen­tial roles of gov­ern­ment, Trump’s 2018 bud­get pro­poses a re­duc­tion of $876 mil­lion in fund­ing for Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency. In the wake of Har­vey, many mem­bers of Congress vow to op­pose that cut. The U.S. Coast Guard bud­get is set to be re­duced by $1.3 bil­lion and the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice bud­get by $62 mil­lion.

The Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram is due for re-au­tho­riza­tion this fall. The pro­gram was meant to be self-sus­tain­ing, but mas­sive pay­outs due to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and su­per­storm Sandy, as well as fraud­u­lent claims, have left it $25 bil­lion in debt. Mean­while, Trump wants to cut $190 mil­lion for map­ping flood-prone ar­eas, maps that de­ter­mine in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums. Post-Har­vey, Congress is likely to de­mand an over­haul of the en­tire pro­gram.

In re­build­ing in­fras­truc­ture in Hous­ton and through­out the United States, we should pay heed to the in­no­va­tive ways the Dutch have man­aged their flood de­fenses. Half of the Nether­lands is at or be­low sea level. Through bril­liant de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing, they have se­cured their cities, en­hanced their agri­cul­ture and be­come the world’s lead­ing con­sul­tants on shore­line pro­tec­tion and wa­ter man­age­ment.

To pre­pare more ef­fec­tively for flood­ing and other en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters, we must em­brace sci­en­tific re­search and de­vel­op­ment.

But un­der Trump, we are do­ing just the op­po­site.

Trump’s 2018 bud­get cuts the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion by $1 bil­lion. A big chunk of that money, $250 mil­lion, sup­ports coastal re­search pro­grams to man­age shore­lines and pre­pare com­mu­ni­ties for ris­ing seas and storm surges.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency will see a cut of $2.6 bil­lion. More than 3,000 sci­en­tists en­gag­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search and re­me­di­a­tion will lose their jobs.

At the En­ergy Depart­ment, $300 mil­lion will be slashed from the Ad­vanced Re­search Prod­ucts Agency, where new en­ergy tech­nolo­gies are de­vel­oped.

The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health and the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion also face huge fund­ing cuts.

Trump has dis­banded the Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Change. Fed­eral agen­cies have wiped their web­sites of in­for­ma­tion about global warm­ing. Trump with­drew the United States from the in­ter­na­tional Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord, mak­ing us the only coun­try in the world to re­ject ef­forts to halt global warm­ing.

To mit­i­gate the im­pacts of fu­ture nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, we must in­vest in re­search and de­vel­op­ment. We must lis­ten to our sci­en­tists and forge pub­lic-pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tions to im­prove in­fras­truc­ture. We must be will­ing to pay the price to re­pair our en­vi­ron­ment and to save our lives and the lives of our neigh­bors.

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