WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will revoke an Obama-era executive order on Tuesday that required strict building standards for government-funded projects to reduce exposure to increased flooding from sea level rise, sources said.
Trump will sign his executive order this afternoon to revoke the standards as part of his administration’s plan to “streamline the current process” for infrastructure projects, a government official said.
The official said the order will not prohibit state and local agencies from using a more stringent standard if they choose.
Separately a White House spokesperson said on Tuesday afternoon that the order would set a two-year goal for completing permits needed on major infrastructure plans, and create a “one Federal decision” protocol for big projects. The White House did not provide any more details on the coming executive order.
The Trump administration has complained that it takes too much time to get permits and approvals for construction projects. The administration has issued dozens of rules and orders to reverse or rescind Obama-era regulations addressing climate change and its consequences such as rising sea levels and more severe storms.
The Obama-era standard required that builders factor in scientific projections for how climate change could affect flooding in a certain area and ensure projects can withstand rising sea levels and stronger downpours.
Obama required all federal agencies apply the standard to public infrastructure projects from housing to highways.
It raised base flood levels to a higher vertical elevation to “address current and future flood risk and ensure that projects funded with taxpayer dollars last as long as intended,” according to a 2015 Treasury Department presentation on the order. U.S. officials have estimated that the United States suffered $260 billion in flood related damages between 1980 and 2013.
Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA who worked on the Obama-era order, said Trump is undoing “the most significant action taken in a generation” to safeguard U.S. infrastructure.
“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 said.
Flood policy expert Eli Lehrer, president of the libertarian R Street Institute who has been critical of many other Obama initiatives, agreed that revoking this order will end up costing taxpayers money.
“The Trump administration is acting very rashly in part out of the desire to undo a climate measure under the Obama administration,” he said. “This is an enormous mistake that is disastrous for taxpayers. The rule would have saved billions of dollars over time.”
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio