The truly terrifying Hurricane Harvey has officially strengthened to a Category 3 storm. As reporters across the country scramble to tell the story of the storm’s potential for loss of life, historic flooding, pollution events, and economic turmoil, political journalists are talking about the perils this storm poses to President Donald Trump.
This is not a trivial matter. Harvey will be the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and reporters say Trump’s response to the damage will be “a critical test of [his] abilities as commander-in-chief.” But Trump has already taken the test of disaster readiness, and he hasn’t exactly aced it. Over the last seven months, the president has both proposed and implemented numerous policies that surround hurricane preparedness, readiness, and response. Here are some of them:
- In his skinny budget, Trump proposed a $510 million cut to NOAA’s $2.3 billion satellite division. This cut would likely not impact current ability to forecast storms; rather, it would prevent NOAA from improving its forecasting capabilities with new satellites that could give people more notice before extreme weather events hit.
- According to Newsweek, Trump’s skinny budget also “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.”
- The White House budget for NOAA also calls for a $5 million funding cut “to slow the transition of advanced modeling research into operations for improved warnings and forecasts.”
- As for FEMA, Trump’s budget would eliminate the agency’s Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis program, which attempts to show how sea level rise will increase flood risk in cities.
- Trump recently signed an executive order rolling back requirements that federal infrastructure be built with future sea level rise in mind.
- Trump’s administration has proposed decimating funding for research on future climate change that could impact severity of storms, and appears to have directed federal scientists to remove references to “climate change” or “global warming” in their research. Human-caused climate change is expected to increase the risks hurricanes pose, because of rising seas and a warmer atmosphere that is able to hold more moisture.
- Trump appointed Brock Long as FEMA Administrator, who has earned praise for his extensive disaster response experience and was confirmed with little opposition from Democrats. Long has faced criticism, however, over his support for cutting federal funds for flood-prone homes.
Congress is already struggling to pay for natural disaster recovery, and experts say disasters could become even more costly in the future. According to Bloomberg, “The federal government spent $357 billion on disaster recovery over the past decade; the number of billion-dollar disasters in 2016 was the second-highest on record, after adjusting for inflation. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the independent agency that advises Congress, ranks climate change as one of the greatest financial risks facing the federal government.” With this information in mind, it’s clear that Trump has so far failed his policy test. Hopefully, with Hurricane Harvey about to hit, he will not fail in his response.