Trump Wanted to Kill This Obama Rule. Then Came the Hurricanes.

The White House is walking back Trump’s recent order.

Gabe Hernandez, Corpus Christi Caller-Times/Zuma

Three weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that reversed an Obama-era requirement that future construction in areas likely to flood need to be built at a higher elevation. But after the devastation Hurricane Harvey caused in Houston and with Hurricane Irma barreling toward Florida, the White House is now trying to walk back Trump’s order.

In 2015, the Obama White House updated flood-risk standards for the first time since the 1970s, incorporating climate models and sea-level rise into calibrations for building elevations. The new standard meant that any federally funded building in flood plains must be built at higher elevations, especially for critical infrastructure like hospitals and fire stations. On August 15, Trump erased those standards with one line buried in a broader infrastructure order.

But it appears the recent string of natural disasters has made the administration change its mind. On Friday, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters that the White House might put out another executive order or additional guidance in the next month. “We shouldn’t use federal money to rebuild in ways that don’t anticipate future flood risk,” Bossert said. “So we need to build back smarter and stronger against flood plain concerns when we use federal dollars.”

While not providing any details on what those new standards would entail, the broad strokes of what Bossert proposed sounds an awful lot like the standards Trump just reversed—except Bossert didn’t mention the words “sea level rise.” 

Obama’s update of the 40-year-old standards was popular not just among environmentalists but fiscal conservatives worried about government spending. It only appeared to be on Trump’s radar for two reasons: 1) It was an Obama executive order. 2) It was about climate change.


More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.