President Donald Trump is all for building mega-infrastructure projects—that was one of his campaign’s trademark promises. He wants to build big and fast. But Trump’s latest rescission of an Obama-era executive order, which stipulated all government-funded projects follow strict building standards to reduce exposure to flooding, may end up costing taxpayers a lot more.
Trump will revoke the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard with the goal of streamlining the environmental review of infrastructure projects, as first reported by Reuters. This move is part of his new executive order that aims to establish “discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects,” according to a statement the White House released yesterday.
The current standard for these government projects requires that designers factor in projections for climate change and flooding as a consequence of rising sea levels and increasingly intense downpours. In effect, it meant that buildings would be built to a higher vertical elevation to address all flood risks and ensure taxpayer dollars would be preserved for as long as possible. This standard, introduced by former president Barack Obama as one his many measures tackling climate change, was required for all infrastructure projects, from public housing to highways.
But speaking today at Trump Tower, Trump denounced the current permitting process as “over regulated” and “a disgrace.” He claimed that instead of taking twenty years to build a highway, under his new executive order a highway will be built in under two years. “We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly and inexpensively,” he said.
Demonstrating a similar lack of concern for climate change when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, Trump has already rolled back many of Obama’s regulations on climate change. The elimination of this requirement could ultimately do more harm in the long run—even with a faster timeline, without flood-safety measures, taxpayers could end up paying up to billions over time, flood policy expert Eli Lehrer told Reuters. And it’s not a matter of if it floods, but when.
The U.S. has already suffered an estimated $260 billion in flood related damages between 1980 and 2013.
Trump’s decision is undoing “the most significant action taken in a generation” to safeguard infrastructure, Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA, said to Reuters. “We can either build smarter now, or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods,” he said. “And it will.”