As Waters Rise, Trump Wants to Cut Coastal Protection Efforts Off at the Knees

by David Flores

June 14, 2017

On Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee to explain how he plans to square the Trump administration's proposed 31-percent cut to EPA's budget with its statutory obligations to protect the environment. Spoiler alert: There's no plan. The proposition – implementing and enforcing safeguards related to water, air, and hazardous materials while cutting a quarter of the agency's workforce – is preposterous. 

Some House members are likely to press Pruitt on a signature issue, his disingenuous climate denialism and transparent effort to maximize profits for coal, oil, and gas producers at the expense of the environment and public health. Minimizing climate change and mitigating its effects won't come cheaply at this point, but it would be far less costly than the potential future costs of climate disaster. Just last week, researchers at Princeton and Rutgers projected a median 40-fold increase in coastal flooding events in the 100-year flood zone by 2050. This includes areas like Seattle, Charleston, Washington DC, and Trump's beloved Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. 

So if Trump and Pruitt have their way, stalling efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions, what then will this administration do to protect coastal Americans today – and in 2050 – from intensified flooding and storms? 

The answer: Nothing. In fact, they'd cut our coastal protection efforts off at the knees. 

The Trump budget proposes elimination of grant programs that provide critical assistance to underserved communities severely vulnerable to climate impacts, including the communities profiled in CPR's recent Reaching Higher Ground report. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant and EPA's Alaska Native Villages grant program are badly underfunded but are nevertheless among the few sources of support for communities driven to relocate by  rising seas and melting permafrost. Trump's budget would axe both programs, as well as regional programs like the Denali Commission, which provides direct assistance to dozens of climate-threatened Alaska Native communities. The proposal dims any hope that these communities will receive the federal assistance necessary for survival and, with overall proposed cuts of $492 million targeting EPA's climate programming, it will also dash any hope that other coastal communities will be able to adequately adapt in the near future. 

Trump's budget proposal would also eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis program and cut $500 million from the agency's grant programs, which include funding for pre-disaster mitigation efforts. The proposal risks exposing homeowners to uninsured flood losses in nearly every riverfront and coastal community in the country. 

The proposed cuts would also severely hamper state and regional efforts and funding mechanisms for coastal adaptation and protection of property. Louisiana loses coastal land at a staggering rate of one football-sized field per hour due to the combined impact of rising sea levels, subsidence, and oil and gas drilling. In April, Louisiana declared a state of emergency. In response, Trump recently rejected requests for federal infrastructure funding to support coastal restoration projects that could stem $3.6 billion in potential losses to coastal residences, businesses, and infrastructure over the next 50 years. Remarkably, the White House budget proposal goes even further and proposes cutting revenues the oil and gas industry shares with Louisiana. Those revenues provide the state with an estimated $140 million per year to fund coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects. 

Of course, this is only part of the picture. Even as waters rise, the administration's budget kicks sand into the eyes of federal, state, and local efforts to adapt to nuisance tidal flooding and stronger, more frequent hurricanes. The budget proposal includes devastating cuts to some of the nation's most critical efforts to support adaptation at all levels of government and society through unparalleled climate monitoring and analysis. Trump has proposed eliminating $269 million in funding for NASA Earth Science Missions, which monitor precipitation, ocean chemistry, land cover, atmospheric gases, and much more. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on the other hand, provides numerous grants and outreach to increase climate resilience to drought and extreme events through its Climate Program and grants through the National Weather Service and National Marine Fisheries Service that provide critical management and support for industrial and commercial sectors. Trump would eliminate these programs as well, slashing all funding for NOAA grantmaking. 

Failure to adapt to coastal land loss, flooding, and storms will undoubtedly lead to destruction of homes, diminished economic productivity, and loss of human life. Along with our agricultural sector, the Trump budget proposal does not unburden the economy or the U.S. taxpayer. Rather, it makes us less secure against climate change and disaster, something that will cost us all dearly in the long run.

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