New bureaucracy is not the answer to weather preparedness

New bureaucracy is not the answer to weather preparedness

Back in 2016 a number of senators who were fed up with Congress’ abandonment of its Article I constitutional powers founded the Article I Project. The purpose is to recover Congressional policy and purse-power prerogatives.

At the time, one of those senators, Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeReexamining presidential power over national monuments Utah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Utah), said, “This is of our own making. Congress has recast itself as a back-seat driver in American politics.”

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After decades of complaining about the executive branch wielding too much power, Congress is working to enact something called the PREPARE Act — a complete delegation to the unelected bureaucracy of decisions about how the government should prepare for severe weather events. In contemporary parlance severe weather now includes fires like we see in the West.

 

This is a graphic example of Congress hopping in the backseat and empowering a new wave of reckless regulatory road rage by the executive branch. If this bill passes, fasten your seat belt and get ready to surrender the treasury wallet and private treasure as well.

The PREPARE Act, which was included as a title of the House-passed aviation bill (HR 4), would create a council of bureaucrats to promulgate new requirements for federal agencies to apply to actions touching severe weather. The authors of the bill don’t like cost-benefit or sound science tests of such decisions. They don’t trust agency heads to make these decisions. Instead, they trust an unelected panel of bureaucrats to apply “cost-effectiveness” and “emerging” science to better prepare for severe weather. Never mind that cost-effectiveness only tells a decision-maker to minimize the cost of what may be a wasteful, predetermined and arbitrary action or policy. What is “emerging” science? We can’t tell you. Obviously, it’s still emerging.

Giving away policy to a bureaucrat panel — to adopt expansive severe weather standards without clear directives to make the benefits of these standards exceed costs — is among the most glaring abandonments of Article I Project principles imaginable.

We all want to see our government save money on disaster relief and mitigation. For example, Congress might simply enact a policy that agencies should spend on storm damage actions as long as they reduce government spending on future storm damages by more than the costs. And when there are benefits beyond the savings to future government budgets, you might want to allow some more spending. Congress could enact such a policy and hold each agency responsible for making such wise use of funds through oversight. A new government panel to do this task is unnecessary and certain to look for things that are “nice to do” rather than actions justified by hard-headed analysis.

Apparently, defending congressional authority and oversight is not as satisfying to some members of Congress as creating a new bureaucracy. They want a new agency that is dedicated to severe weather. We might call it the “National Bad Weather Bureau!”

Beware of what we let Congress create for us. This new agency will ultimately be setting standards that are imposed through existing federal regulations. Suppose you want a Clean Water Act wetlands permit to build a subdivision? Then you can be sure that this new severe weather tribunal will have new requirements for you to meet. Or what if you apply for a Federal grant to build a new community facility like a health clinic? Then you can bet the tribunal will have new approvals for you to obtain before you can build the facility.

In fact, this new regulatory panel runs counter to the administration’s initiative to streamline infrastructure permitting and construction — as well as the goals of the bill itself related to removal of supposed government barriers to preparedness. In the PREPARE Act, Congress is proposing an entire, new layer of federal approvals for the whole collection of infrastructure covered by the Stafford Act.   That’s all infrastructure of any kind. One hand of government looks to adopt new federal approvals and rules to stymie the other hand of streamlining. Of course, the right answer is that each agency should integrate severe weather into its decisions. That also keeps another regulatory layer from intruding into the streamlining of infrastructure development.

Policy to improve our preparedness for severe weather does not require a fourth branch of government to adopt more regulations. All we need is a policy directive to ensure that agencies adopt cost-beneficial means of preparing for such weather. Congress can and should provide oversight of each agency’s pursuit of such a policy. That’s commonsense. Recall that goofy, arbitrary Flood Risk Management Standard that would have elevated bridges high above flooded roads. The bridge doesn’t flood but no one can get to it.

Congress should realize the errors here before it enacts the bill. Our legislators can serve the ends of the Article I Project and save this country a lot of money and regulatory headache by rejecting this ill-advised proposal.

Larry J. Prather is an independent consultant and was assistant director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Dan Delich co-founded the Floodplain Alliance for Insurance Reform and worked previously as a congressional staffer and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analyst.