Executive Order Puts Coastal Areas at Risk

Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) aimed at streamlining environmental permitting regulations for major infrastructure projects such as highways and utility corridors. The EO included a revocation of a national standard requiring that federally-funded projects built in floodplains take into consideration future flood risk.

Environmental review is a major component of transportation and other infrastructure projects, which require multiple federal and state permits and reviews. These environmental reviews were borne out of public concern over destructive highway projects across the nation that damaged environmental and cultural resources. Over the past decades, federal agencies have been tasked with making the environmental review process efficient and timely (see here and here).  It is unclear the extent to which President Trump’s EO will clash with existing laws, policies, and regulations; however, it is clear that it prioritizes industry over the health and safety of citizens.

Photo credit: Aislinn Dewey

The now-repealed federal standard – known as the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, or FFRMS – ensured that federally-funded projects built in floodplains would live out their intended lifespan while protecting public health and safety. The FFRMS encouraged the use of nature-based approaches to addressing flood risks by promoting green infrastructure (systems and features engineered to mimic natural processes) as a viable tool in mitigating flood risk and building resilience. It gave flexibility to project proponents, allowing them to choose from a suite of options in order to meet the requirements of the new standard.

For many coastal cities grappling with the impacts of coastal flooding this action ignores the reality of climate change and leaves millions – including Massachusetts residents — at risk. This backslide at the federal level makes it more important than ever for the Massachusetts legislature to pass our comprehensive adaptation management plan bill.