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Trump’s Deregulatory Agenda Is an Assault on Climate-Threatened Communities

Climate Justice

Late last week, we shared our first take on how the Trump administration’s 2017 deregulatory agenda threatens to knock the wheels off of agency efforts to protect workers, consumers, and vulnerable populations – like children and homeless families – from air pollution, flooding, and explosions in the workplace, among other hazards. After some additional research, we have also found that the administration’s agenda takes aim at safeguards for victims of disasters, such as communities that face the threat of displacement or relocation caused by climate change, and at programs that enhance community resilience in the rural areas that President Trump counts among his base of support. 

Several federal agencies – including the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, and the Interior, to name a few – play a crucial role in implementing federal climate adaptation policies. Yet, across the board at all of these agencies, their regulatory agendas have been turned upside down. Among other things, they now contain several withdrawn, inactive, sidelined, and even newly proposed rulemakings that are likely to make relocation of climate-threatened households even more burdensome and the prospect of recovery grimmer for disaster-stricken rural communities. Here is a brief rundown of several of those pending actions.

  • In addition to delaying a rule implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for federally funded housing, the Trump administration appears to have abandoned several proposed rules for HUD that would provide emergency housing to the homeless, veterans, and rural communities. The rules would implement parts of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act of 2009 and the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act that consolidate duplicative government processes; improve data management; and establish programs that would more rapidly provide emergency housing, prevent homelessness for veterans, and deliver emergency housing grants to rural communities, which are often far-flung from federal disaster assistance.  
  • The Trump regulatory agenda also relegates numerous proposed rules to an “inactive” list, including several Department of Agriculture rules that support assistance to disaster-stricken agricultural producers and low-income communities. Included on the inactive list are two rules that provide assistance to farmers suffering losses from disaster, including losses of uninsured crops, and another rule that would establish procedures for delivering emergency food assistance to victims of disaster.  
  • In a blog post last month, I noted that the Trump administration wants to slash important grant programs that offer opportunities – among critically few – to help climate-threatened communities acquire new land for relocation. We highlighted those tools in our Reaching Higher Ground report in May, as well as others that could serve, in part, to help climate-vulnerable communities acquire and govern new land for relocation. We found that climate relocation communities – largely remote Native American and Alaska Native tribes – could acquire and enter landholdings, especially off-reservation land, into federal trust in order to govern and better coordinate development of climate-secure relocation sites. A newly proposed rulemaking by the Department of the Interior is likely to make that process for entering land into trust more difficult and costly for tribes, as described by Brian Newland for the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. The rule would revise existing regulations for off-reservation trust acquisition, which represent a minority of applications by tribes for putting land into trust. The result would surely impinge upon tribal sovereignty and self-determination but also threaten tribal climate relocation and adaptation efforts. 

If we were a society that made substantial investments in community resilience, we might accept policies that curtail implementation of disaster assistance programs. But America has historically – and, with President Trump, will very clearly continue to – vastly and dangerously underinvest in pre-disaster mitigation, climate adaptation, and community resilience needs. 

Rural and other vulnerable communities, especially those threatened with destruction by rising sea levels, coastal erosion, wildfires, and devastating storms, need federal assistance to both prepare for and recover from disaster. Rather than blindly cut budgets and deregulate, the Trump administration should be focused on creating expedited opportunities for climate-threatened communities to acquire climate-secure relocation sites or safely adapt to climate impacts, as well as fair and workable incentives to low- and middle-income households to offload repeatedly flooded homes in order to relocate. The approach would be both fiscally prudent and would protect vulnerable Americans.

Climate Justice

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