Lawmakers weigh environmental effects of Trump’s order

Source: Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017

Members of the House United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force are condemning President Trump’s infrastructure order as a gag on public comment that will put the environment at risk for the sake of “corporate profit.”

“Removing existing protections and stripping away long-term planning requirements will mean more waste, more accidents, and shorter useful lives for the projects we build. These changes are a deep disservice to the American public, and the president should be ashamed,” the task force said in a statement to E&E News.

The task force is chaired by Reps. Don McEachin (D-Va.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, respectively. All are freshmen.

The Democrats launched the task force in response to proposed cuts to U.S. EPA, fearing that minority and low-income communities would be hit the hardest.

“As sea levels rise, and as floods and extreme storms become more common, it will become ever more necessary that we acknowledge and plan for those realities,” the task force said.

Issued yesterday, Trump’s executive order calls for streamlining infrastructure permits and rescinds a 2015 Obama administration directive requiring federal agencies to account for rising sea levels when funding proposed projects. President Obama billed the original directive as a climate change measure, noting that the number of flood-prone areas is likely to increase nationally as sea levels rise, putting more infrastructure at risk (Greenwire, April 15).

The scrapped Obama directive, which sought to address the lack of coordination across governments on flood adaptation, required public projects like government-subsidized housing to be built 2 feet above the 100-year flood standard. Critical infrastructure like hospitals required 3 feet.

Environmental groups, spending watchdogs and engineers derided the decision to toss Obama’s so-called federal flood risk management standard, saying the action overlooked mounting evidence that climate change will affect flood plains and risk taxpayer dollars (Climatewire, Aug. 16).

“Instead of making bipartisan plans to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, Donald Trump has once again put big corporations ahead of our health and safety,” the House task force said.

“What we need instead are fair, inclusive decision-making processes that give all Americans a voice; a prudent, farsighted approach to how we spend scarce public dollars on infrastructure; and a more sustainable economy built on well-paying green jobs.”

The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus expressed mixed reactions to the infrastructure order, which came just days after NOAA released a report stating that sea levels are at a record high.

Republican Co-chairman Carlos Curbelo of Florida slammed the order as not fiscally conservative.

“It’s irresponsible, and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse,” he said in a statement.

“Sea level rise and the risk of severe flooding are a reality for communities across the country. When you’re on the front lines like South Florida, we know the importance of having more resilient building codes to protect our infrastructure, especially when taxpayer dollars are used.”

Curbelo’s Republican colleagues in the caucus were not all in alignment on how the order factors in climate change. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) said he was pleased to see the administration taking strong steps to cut through the “red tape and bureaucracy,” adding it also would protect the environment.

“We can and should overhaul our national infrastructure while being good stewards of our environment, and the Executive Order issued yesterday will help ensure that appropriate environmental reviews are undertaken in a timely and efficient manner,” he said in a statement to E&E News.

“Modernizing our infrastructure will create jobs, make us more competitive on the world stage, make our communities safer and benefit the environment.”

Meehan also plans to introduce legislation next month to boost investment in “green” infrastructure, according to a congressional aide.

The order came as Congress is gearing up to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program and after the release of a draft study by 13 federal agencies stating that rising temperatures are leading to more intense and frequent rainstorms, extreme weather events, and higher seas.