Make America Flood Again…and Again…and Again…

What is the new normal? Even if climate change weren’t a reality, rescinding actions which are aimed at making Americans safer is simply bad economic policy.

Clark Fork River near Missoula - May 2011

Two weeks ago as I helped my 2-1/2 year old son Owen build his first snowman and cleared the snow off the buried daffodils, I had to shush the nagging voice in the back of my head that whispered, “Is this weather normal for Pennsylvania? What will ‘normal’ be like when Owen has kids of his own?”

Out by the snow | Eileen Shader
Out by the snow | Eileen Shader

My worries have only increased over the past two weeks as President Trump continued his attack on the environment and reversing progress the U.S. has made to mitigate and adapt to climate change. First, he released his spending priorities which cut spending on climate change because according to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

And this week, President Trump signed an Executive Order wiping out existing efforts to curb U.S. climate emissions and federal government efforts to help prepare communities for climate change impacts.

The impacts of climate change are a long-term threat to our environment, our economy, and our national security that the current Administration is not just ignoring, but seems set on actively trying to make worse. Over the past eight years, we saw steady progress by President Obama’s administration to slow the onset of climate change and prepare communities for its impacts including floods and droughts. For anyone who worries about the future we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren, President Trump’s actions to reverse this progress is horrifying.

While President Trump’s E.O. does many things including dismantling the Clean Power Plan, it also rolls back a number of President Obama’s efforts to improve planning to reduce the impacts of climate change including floods and droughts and rescinds The President’s Climate Action Plan which was developed following Hurricane Sandy. The devastation experienced after Sandy and other flooding disasters over the past decade was a clear wake-up call that the federal government has a clear role and responsibility to help communities and states become more resilient to flooding events, particularly in light of climate change.

Even if climate change weren’t a reality, rescinding actions which are aimed at making Americans safer is simply bad economic policy. The 30-year flood loss averages calculated by National Weather Service are about $8 billion dollars and 82 fatalities per year. But that dollar figure is generally considered to be way too low and doesn’t come close to the actual cost of federal spending after a disaster.

For instance, Center for American Progress estimated that federal disaster relief for 2011-2013, including Hurricane Sandy recovery, reached $136 billion- or $400 per household per year. I don’t know about you, but I want some assurance that if I have to spend my tax dollars helping Americans recover and rebuild from floods, I want some assurance that we’re rebuilding more safely and more resiliently than we were before the flood.

While not directly addressed in the President’s E.O., today’s actions and the budget priorities indicate this Administration will not be putting a high priority on natural infrastructure approaches to flood management like wetlands, green infrastructure, and floodplain restoration rather than just traditional concrete and cement. When I began my career advocating for policies like these, any progress seemed like an add-on to make environmentalists happy. But during the Obama Administration, these approaches were on their way to becoming standard operating procedure. It had become apparent that incorporating nature into infrastructure investment is important for public safety and is a wise investment in the long run. Luckily, many states and communities around the country are proving that natural infrastructure is the future of flood management and we need to prepare now in order to deal with the increasing flood risk that comes with climate change.

It’s frustrating, infuriating, and senseless that the Trump Administration has chosen to ignore science on climate change and the many lessons that past floods have taught us. While the Administration may be too short-sighted to try to slow climate change or prepare for its impacts, the next major flooding disaster in the United States is just around the corner and the President will have to help the nation recover and rebuild. Hopefully, he will let us rebuild in smarter, more resilient manner that will leave us more prepared for the next flood.

For the sake of my kids and yours, I’m hopeful that this war on science and climate change will be short. Choosing to ignore the reality of climate change won’t stop it from happening. In the meantime, I hope communities, states, academia, the business community and others will continue to fight back by taking steps to build a more resilient future.

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