Don't repeat Sandy mistake; fund Harvey recovery

The cost of recovery from the unprecedented flooding that has struck the Houston, Texas, area will be immense. While Texas is a large and economically strong state, only the resources of the federal government can address a natural disaster this big.

Congress will need to step up. It should do so without the tactless debate and opposition witnessed when it was this region dealing with a mega-disaster in the form of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The storm caused massive destruction along the coasts of Connecticut, New York and, particularly, New Jersey.

It was hard not to mistake the irony when, as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coast, its two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, sent a letter to President Trump asking for a major disaster declaration, a necessary step in accessing federal funding for rescue and recovery funds.

Cruz and Cornyn led a group of Republicans who picked apart the $50 billion Sandy relief package and demanded that cuts be found elsewhere before the Senate approve assistance to the stricken region. In the end they voted against the bill, which gained approval with a combination of Democratic votes and willing Republicans.

One fellow Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, hasn’t forgotten. But he also made clear he won’t turn his back on Texas. Good for him.

“Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY won’t abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” tweeted King on Saturday.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal made the point at a press conference at Green Harbors Beach in New London on Monday, noting that financial aid to address the damage seen in that area in 2012 was delayed by the congressional wrangling.

“It took months longer than it should have. I am committed to avoid that destructive delay when it comes to Harvey,” said the Democratic senator. “I will support immediate and all necessary investment to rebuild the Gulf Coast.”

Aid for the Sandy recovery set off an ugly debate between conservative Republicans, many who had won election as tea party advocates, and a partnership of Democrats and Republicans from the Northeast.

In the end a majority of Republicans in both chambers — 179 in the House and 36 in the Senate — voted against the $50 billion federal aid package for Sandy recovery.

Before any lawmakers contemplate taking such an unseemly position again, they should consider the example set by the unselfish actions of regular Americans in Houston who improvised armadas of small watercraft to rescue families trapped by the flooding. Political, racial and class distinctions were rendered irrelevant as Americans helped Americans. Volunteers from across the country are arriving to assist southeastern Texas in this emergency.

In time, Congress needs to deal with some tough issues associated with events such as the Hurricane Harvey-caused disaster.

Given the increasing frequency of these major disasters in our changing climate, Congress must seriously consider providing more funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Communities that are judged particularly vulnerable to increased flooding threats need to make smarter development planning decisions. Houston has undergone rapid growth and the paving of much of its landscape despite warnings it was becoming more vulnerable to flooding. Absent from development rules were measures necessary to mitigate flooding, such as maintaining green space and protecting other natural resources that absorb heavy rains.

It doesn’t help that the president dismisses the threat posed by climate change. His Environmental Protection Agency is doing away with regulatory initiatives that were intended to reduce carbon emissions. Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord.

Instead Trump prioritizes the interests of fossil fuel-producing states over protecting the environment and mitigating climate upheaval. Ironic, then, that states such as Texas, with major fossil-fuel economies, are among the most vulnerable to the increasing severe weather.

But that debate is for another day. In coming weeks and months the focus must be on addressing the needs of tens of thousands of Texans left temporarily homeless and in need of help to rebuild. To assist them Congress must set aside partisan politics and act in unity.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments