Trump Track: If a Tree Falls in the Forest - Contrasting Approaches to Environmental Announcements

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On October 13, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order directing the creation of a sub-group with the Environmental Protection Agency to address infrastructure issues for America's water systems. Other agencies weighed in with supporting comments in the accompanying press release.

On September 20, 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a policy statement on mitigation policy which stated it would include ecological benefits as well as safety in designing flood mitigation. More simply, it would include wetlands and other ecological features in planning flood mitigation, not just standard approaches such as seawalls. There was no accompanying press release.

Both of these announcements address serious problems. According to a July 2020 report by the American Society of Engineers, the short fall in infrastructure spending versus need could exceed $2 trillion within 20 years. The Executive Order does not address financing, however, and given the timing of the Order—less than three weeks before the Presidential election—one has strong suspicions that this Order was more for show than a thoughtful policy directive.

The FEMA announcement also has very serious and positive policy implications. It has been increasingly recognized that standard approaches, including seawalls and replacement of flooded housing, have only set us up for repeated disasters in the same locations. Indeed, in an oddity for environmental action by this administration, it was applauded by environmental groups for adopting a positive approach to watershed management.

Why a press release for one, not for the other? Let's use Occam's Razor. It's an election year, and anything that sounds positive to farmers, a core Trump constituency, regardless of substance, will get big play; something that suggests a potential voter living in a flood plain may not to be able to count on rebuilt levees after the next big storm … not so much.

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