President Trump has been criticized for his tone-deaf comportment as Hurricane Harvey has laid waste to Houston, tweeting a plug for an ally’s book, revisiting his election victory in Missouri and offering a cheerful “Thanks!” as the category-4 storm made landfall. But his most significant contribution to the tragedy came weeks ago and may cost lives — when he rolled back Obama-era legislation designed to protect infrastructure from cataclysmic weather events.

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In 2015, the Obama administration established the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, a set of regulations that were designed to provide “climate resilience,” requiring infrastructure such as bridges and roads to be designed to withstand effects of climate change such as sea-level rise and ensuring they were built on safer ground. This month, Trump killed the yet-to-be-implemented plan, claiming they would delay infrastructure construction projects.

Speaking at Trump Tower during his self-declared “Infrastructure Week,” Trump said he would “slash the time it takes” to approve new projects. “We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking, and the permitting process will go very, very quickly.”


That announcement was overshadowed when the press conference descended into an infamous back-and-forth with reporters in which Trump defended the white supremacists behind the fatal events in Charlottesville, and his initial response thereon.

Trump’s actions have drawn sharp criticism from emergency-management specialists and environmental activists. “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,” said Rafael Lemaitre, the former director of public affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who added that the Trump was rolling back “the most significant action taken in a generation” to protect infrastructure.

As Houston was walloped this weekend by literal feet of rain, most of its major roadways became impassible within hours of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall.

An environmental activist and insurance industry advocate wrote an op-ed in Politico warning that the threat of flooding is universal in the United States: “While many Americans may think flooding is only a problem for coastal regions prone to hurricanes and tropical storms, it is far more widespread than that and can devastate any state or region across the country. In just the past five years, all 50 states have experienced flood damage.”

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