New Trump Administration Flood Standards Mirror Obama-Era Rules

Extensive flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in southeast Texas on Aug. 31, 2017.

Extensive flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey in southeast Texas on Aug. 31, 2017. AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Six months after President Trump revoked an Obama-era rule mandating that federally funded projects account for future sea level rise and flooding, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that recipients of $7.4 billion in disaster recovery grants must do just that — seemingly representing a reversal of the administration’s stance on climate preparedness.

The HUD guidelines, first reported by Bloomberg and ClimateWire, affect Community Development Block Grants, which are increasingly used for disaster recovery, including in Texas and Florida, where communities are rebuilding from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. The grants require recipients to build or elevate structures above the 100-year floodplain, and for coastal projects to also account for future sea level rise — language nearly identical to the Obama standards.

A spokesman for HUD told ClimateWire that the guidelines only apply to the block grants and disaster funding, but do not change underlying agency policy.

The directive came as a surprise to climate adaptation and flooding experts, who have been pushing the administration to reinstate the original flood protection standard or pass a new one, but until this point had been met with little or no response. Experts argue that without rebuilding guidelines, the federal government risks investing billions of dollars in structures, roads, and other projects that could be underwater in the coming decades.

Rob Moore, a senior flood policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg that the new guidelines were “unprecedented for this administration.”

“The assumption was that these much-needed federal flood protection standards were dead,” he said. “All of this is being done without mentioning the words ’climate change,’ but clearly these are the same types of actions.”