Update, 8/28/17: Last week we published the following piece about Trump’s latest attack on environmental protections, yet another shortsighted executive order that revoked a plan by the Obama administration to reduce the risk of property loss and taxpayer costs from the increasing incidents of flooding expected from worsening storms and sea level rise associated with climate change. At the time, an ex-FEMA public affairs director stated, “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."
Unfortunately, the devastation being caused by Hurricane Harvey is already showing this prediction to be true. One member of Congress, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), has proposed an amendment to the 2018 EPA spending bill that would maintain existing requirements for considering the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather in infrastructure project planning. As Congress moves forward to develop its plan for rebuilding infrastructure, their first step must be to roll back this dangerous executive order.
At last Tuesday’s news conference, in what was eclipsed by his outrageous defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Donald Trump went on stage to talk infrastructure. He announced an executive order stripping away more environmental regulations as part of his broader infrastructure agenda. This latest executive order could have major implications for the safety of our communities—the climate-denier-in-chief revoked Obama-era rules to protect roads and buildings from floods. As our climate changes, major wet weather events will become more frequent, and these rules were designed to protect federally funded projects from floods and rising sea levels to make the projects more climate-resilient.
Trump’s executive order also sets up the creation of so-called energy corridors to fast track approval for oil and gas pipelines on federal lands, even though we urgently need to move off fossil fuels to avert climate catastrophe.
This latest order is consistent with Trump’s usual approach that puts our infrastructure and communities at risk in the name of corporate profits. Although he has yet to articulate a coherent plan to modernize our nation’s roads, bridges, ports and water systems, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a Senate appropriations panel last month that a $1 trillion proposal would be coming in September.
In May, his administration released a short fact sheet that outlines his principles for infrastructure investment by promoting deregulation and corporate control of public services. This vision will ensure more of the same problems we’ve come to expect from privatization schemes: price increases, a lack of public accountability and a loss of jobs.
Another consequence of Trump’s Charlottesville response was the termination of his new yet-to-be-filled Infrastructure Advisory Council. In July, Trump signed an executive order to establish this council, but late last week, his administration announced that it would be dissolved. This came as CEOs were fleeing his also-now-disbanded Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum, and as his entire Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in protest, explaining, “Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.”
Last month, Food & Water Watch sued Trump for lack of transparency with his existing infrastructure council. In January, Trump tapped New York-based, billionaire real-estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth to head up a council to work on his $1 trillion infrastructure plan and promote privatization. The suit seeks to shine a spotlight on this council and the activities of its apparently financially conflicted co-chairs.
Many of our nation’s water systems were built over a century ago and desperately need repairs and upgrades. Inadequate federal investment in public water and sewer systems has led to unaffordable rates for water service, and in some places, tap water that’s unsafe to drink. But selling our roads, bridges and water systems off to the highest bidder is no answer to our infrastructure problems.
Communities deserve a say in how their water systems are managed, and decisions about shared essential resources such as water should be made with the public’s interest in mind, not the potential profit margins of Trump’s Wall Street cronies.
Take Action: Tell your Senators to reject Trump’s privatization plans and support public funding for our essential water systems.