Trump Rescinded Obama's Flood-Risk Rule Weeks Before Hurricane Harvey Hit

Donald Trump signed away Obama-era flood standards just weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, in a bid to get infrastructure projects approved more quickly.

The rule, signed by former President Barack Obama in 2015, had not yet come into effect but aimed to make infrastructure more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and flooding.

Those who backed Obama's rule believed they would make people safer by putting roads, bridges and other infrastructure on safer ground, NPR reported. But Trump rescinded the rule several weeks ago in an attempt to speed up the time it takes for infrastructure projects to be approved.

GettyImages-839840216 Lee Padilla walks in the Cottage Grove neighborhood of Houston, which has been inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey, on August 27. Getty

Obama's regulation meant roads, buildings and other infrastructure needed to be constructed to take climate change into account and be built to withstand the effects of such climate change, including rising sea levels in coastal areas.

But Trump believed the rule would slow down the permitting process. The president favored a faster route for infrastructure building, which he announced with an executive order signed several weeks ago—the latest in a series of Obama-era climate change policies to get the boot. 

Speaking from New York when he announced the rule rollback August 15, Trump said, "We're going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking, and the permitting process will go very, very quickly."

The executive order signed by Trump also gives a two-year time limit for the permits to be completed for major infrastructure projects, which includes environmental reviews on such proposals.

"It’s going to be a very streamlined process, and by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it," added Trump. He has promised he would push for a $1 trillion package to improve the country's infrastructure, although it has yet to come up in Congress.

At least five people have been reported dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the ensuing heavy flooding, with the emergency services rescuing more than 1,000 people overnight who were trapped in high floodwaters.

Residents in Houston have reported being trapped in their homes by rising floodwaters, and authorities have warned people to stay indoors and not attempt to drive along flooded roads, which is where the majority of fatalities occur.

This year, Weather.com reported that 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes are expected this season, with the average usually slightly higher.

Trump's decision to roll back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was praised by business groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, which said flood regulations had pushed up the cost of housing. But the decision was criticized by environmental groups, Reuters reports.

Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the news service that Trump was undoing "the most significant action taken in a generation" to protect infrastructure from climate change.

"Eliminating this requirement is self-defeating. We can either build smarter now or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods. And it will," he added.

The National Association of Home Builders did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

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