Obama orders federal agencies to factor sea level rise into construction planning

President Barack Obama wants federally-funded construction projects to be more flood resistant, a response to the likelihood that sea levels will rise as Earth’s climate changes.

The White House announced Friday that Obama signed an executive order that will require buildings, roads, and other structures to meet one of three criteria: siting according to the “best available, actionable climate science,” construction of non-critical facilities at least two feet above the 100-year flood elevation, or construction at a contour above the 500-foot flood elevation.

“The [f]ederal [g]overnment must take action, informed by the best-available and actionable science, to improve the [n]ation’s preparedness and resilience against flooding,” Obama wrote in the order.

A fact sheet released by the Council on Environmental Quality explained that the executive order does not affect the National Flood Insurance Program‘s standards. Instead, according to the fact sheet, the standards required by the executive order “will apply when [f]ederal funds are used to build, or significantly retrofit or repair, structures and facilities in and around floodplains to ensure that those structures are resilient, safer, and long-lasting.”

Obama acted several days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that coastal storms in the northeastern region of the country are intensifying as sea levels change and the climate changes.

“Hurricane Sandy brought to light the reality that coastal storms are intensifying and that sea-level change and climate change will only heighten the vulnerability of coastal communities,” Brig. Gen. Kent D. Savre, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division, said in a statement accompanying release of the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study Report.

The National Climate Assessment, which was released by the White House last year, also warned that sea level increases are inevitable as anthropogenic climate change continues.

Obama’s order is the first substantial change in the flood protection standards applicable to federally-funded facilities since President Jimmy Carter first addressed the problem in 1977.