On Aug. 15, President Trump signed an executive order on infrastructure, which includes provisions to roll back building standards that require consideration of climate change and sea-level rise for construction projects in areas that are vulnerable to flooding. The standard, put in place by a 2015 executive order from President Obama, was an important acknowledgement of the risks associated with building in floodplains — clearly demonstrated by multiple weather-related disasters during his administration.
The rollback is intended to streamline the construction approval process, with the stated goal of quickly improving our deteriorating infrastructure. But Franco Montalto, PhD, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, who heads the North American hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network, suggests that this measure is dangerously short-sighted and could put many people in coastal areas at risk.
“The president’s executive order, and particularly its direction to revoke Executive Order 13690 (issued by President Obama in 2015), rolling back standards that require consideration of climate change in areas at risk of flooding, is short-sighted and dangerous. According to a NOAA report originally published in 2013, and revisited and statistically reconfirmed in 2015, there has been an increasing trend in ‘billion dollar disasters’ in the United States, of which more than half of total losses are due to floods, severe storms or tropical cyclones.”
“We know that sea level has been rising and will continue to do so. We also know that coastal storm surges due to tropical and extra-tropical cyclones and extreme precipitation pile up on top of mean sea level, exacerbating losses above what they would otherwise be if sea level were not increasing. It is short-sighted to use federal funding for infrastructure projects that do not consider these trends. It is also dangerous, because by ignoring these risks, users of new infrastructure projects will face increasing risks due to climate related disasters.”
“While it is true that climate-proofing infrastructure can be more costly than the cost of building the same infrastructure without considering future climate, it is also true that efforts to reduce climate risks now will reduce the need for disaster relief and recovery. We ought to be investing tax payer money wisely. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old idiom goes.”
Montalto’s research group, the Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab, looks at how communities in climate-vulnerable urban areas such as New York City, Philadelphia and several European cities, can create building standards that better equip them to handle the challenges of flooding and sea-level rise. The group is currently consulting on infrastructure improvements to improve the climate resiliency of the Eastwick area of Philadelphia.
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