As Hurricane Harvey batters Texas, Donald Trump's actions — or lack thereof — are leaving Americans less safe in the face of such natural disasters, now and in the future.
Hurricane Harvey is wreaking havoc in Texas, and the devastation will be catastrophic. The totality of the destruction is not yet known, but predictions anticipate that this will be one of the worst storms in more than a decade.
During the Obama administration, even though there was no Category 3 or higher hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, serious efforts were underway to ensure a better prepared infrastructure and response when a storm inevitably hit — because that is how responsible leaders act.
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump is choosing a different tack, systematically dismantling the work of his predecessor and putting Americans at further risk.
But hey, Trump did make sure to wish everyone “good luck” as he jetted off for more vacation time.
Trump’s actions are the “opposite to the ‘leave it better than you found it’ philosophy,” according to David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State and retired Navy rear admiral.
In 2013, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13653 to prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change. The order included directions for the federal government to work with state and local governments to look at infrastructure projects to help prepare for changes brought about by climate change, such as more powerful hurricanes.
A report on that EO noted that the administration was “applying lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and other extreme events … to build a stronger collaborative culture with communities and removing barriers to resilient rebuilding and recovery efforts.”
“Significant progress is being made across the Administration to modernize Federal programs and data collection and mapping,” the report continued.
But in March 2017, Trump rescinded this executive order. Because why bother preparing for climate change if you believe that it is no more than a hoax?
And in mid-August, in the midst of hurricane season and less than two weeks prior to Hurricane Harvey making landfall, Trump rescinded another Executive Order put in place to protect communities from the devastation wreaked by natural disasters.
EO 13690, signed by President Obama in 2015, required all federal investments involving floodplains to meet higher flood risk management standards, to help ensure that infrastructure in those areas would be more resilient, less precarious, and less costly in both human and economic terms.
But Trump nixed that order and the protections it sought to implement, and the nation is already set to witness the damage his move could bring.
It is one more bullet point in Trump’s growing obsession with attacking President Obama’s legacy, which also includes the massive cuts called for in Trump’s budget to the tools the federal government uses to monitor and warn about natural disasters.
Trump’s budget “seeks to cut 26 percent from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which supports data collection, climate and science, as well as research into more accurate weather forecasting models.”
Investments in weather-related science have had life-saving results:
Scientists and meteorologists have worried that the cuts, and much more devastating reductions in climate change programs at NASA and other agencies, would harm the agency’s ability to forecast storms. In recent decades, the improvement in forecasting technologies has saved hundreds of lives, especially when it comes to tornadoes. The National Weather Service notes that hundreds used to die from pop up tornadoes like the ones that blew through Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, and that deaths are way down due to accurate predictions.
It is horrifying, if sadly predictable, to see such potentially deadly hostility to science enacted in the face of a roiling natural disaster.
To make matters worse, as Hurricane Harvey ravages through Texas, the Trump administration is woefully understaffed to confront it, with no director at the Federal Emergency Management Agency or administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in place.
State and local governments, as well as charities, hospitals, and volunteers, will need to do all they can to keep everyone safe, since the White House has made it clear that little help will be forthcoming.
It is just one more callous way that Donald Trump is failing at his job, and failing the American people.