Harvey clarifies our priorities
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.