Congress Plays Armchair General, Risking Public Safety


us capitalAs Ronald Regan once said, “There they go again.”  This week the House of Representatives once again threw common sense out the window and put politics in front of people by voting to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Responses to Climate Change Program.

This program develops and implements practical, nationally consistent, and cost-effective approaches to protect people and property.  Rather than letting our U.S. military commanders decide what they need to do to battle the increasing size and frequency of floods, a few extremists in the House have decided to “play general” themselves. 

While I’ve had plenty of problems with the way the Corps has done business in the past, I would trust a trained engineer with some real data over an ideologue any day. 

This is not the first amendments passed threatening the livelihood and lives of Americans.  Last month the House passed two amendments preventing agencies – the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – from integrating climate change conditions into its programs and operations.

Yesterday’s amendment is particularly unsettling as this year has been a record breaking year for floods across the United States. From flooding in the Midwest on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to the flooding in the Colorado River basin, it is impossible to remember another year quite like this.

Georgia Representative Rob Woodall justified his amendment by claiming that climate change was not a part of the USACE’s mission. What is so hard to figure out here?  The Corps is in charge of billions of dollars of water infrastructure throughout the nation – dams, levees, canals, etc.  They are also in charge of permitting disturbances and discharges into water bodies. 

Climate is the primary driver of our freshwater cycle.  If the Army believes that there is a strong likelihood that the climate is changing, wouldn’t it stand to reason that we would want them to prepare for that?  Would these members of Congress override the judgment of the Army if they had strong evidence that an enemy attack was only just a matter of time?  I bet not. 

The Corps has been and continues to be critical in responding to and working to prevent major floods and disasters in both our inland and coastal waterways. However, today they realize the potential impacts of climate change and are working to integrate these changes into their planning and operations. For example, instead of building and relying on levees and floodwalls along rivers and pushing the flooding downstream, we must find ways to manage rivers more naturally by creating more floodways and bypasses and by investing in the protection and restoration of our natural defenses — rivers, wetlands and floodplains. These natural solutions are an innovative and cost effective way of planning for the future and helping to prevent the magnitude of disasters we’ve seen this year.

Sadly, the trend of politics before people only looks like it will continue. Even though much of our country has experienced intense flooding, intense droughts, or both this year, some politicians continue to work against using the best available science to manage risk and safeguard our communities. Failing to manage for risk will continue to cost us now and in the future.