What the Sandy Recovery Bill Gets Wrong

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a two-part bill to fund the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. In an essay written prior to the vote, Rob Young criticizes the rush to approve rebuilding the entire coast as it was before the storm.
January 17, 2013, 1pm PST | Jessica Hsu
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The $50 billion in post-Sandy spending approved by the House this week was divided into a "baseline bill" that includes $17 billion for immediate recovery efforts, and an amendment introduced by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, totaling an additional $34 billion.

"Of greatest concern," says Young, "is the proposal in the amendment to fund a massive coastal engineering effort that is not based on the best science or wise planning." The Army Corps of Engineers would be able to spend $3.5 billion on any flood control and risk reduction project without authorization. "Even more troubling, the bill would allow the Corps to rebuild the New Jersey and New York beaches to their 'design profile'" continues Young, "In other words, put them back in the condition they were in before the storm." Coastal experts have been calling for officials to rebuild in a way that will reduce exposure to future storms, but the bill disregards that approach in favor of restoring the coast to pre-Sandy conditions.

$500,000 of the bill will be used to evaluate the extent to which pre-existing projects provided protection during Sandy. "The paradox is that even as the bill recognizes the need to understand the effectiveness of these very expensive projects, it authorizes spending billions on new ones before the answers are in," says Young. Emergency spending is necessary to help provide relief for victims and to rebuild damaged properties, but spending on new projects without thorough evaluation "invites a rush of bad decisions with little to no accountability," he argues. Young concludes, "If federal taxpayers are going to be asked to spend billions on beach and dune engineering projects to protect private property and infrastructure, we need to know that the money will be allocated wisely. The proposed Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill now in Congress does not provide that assurance."

Hat tip to Daniel Lippman.

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Published on Monday, January 14, 2013 in Bloomberg
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