The US House of Representatives on 15 January passed the second and third installments of a piecemeal Hurricane Sandy disaster-relief plan, adding about US$50 billion to the $9.7 billion in flood insurance funds that were authorized on 4 January.
Just a small amount of money would go to science agencies. The measure includes $136 million for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve weather surveillance and forecasting capabilities, and $15 million for NASA to repair facilities damaged by the storm.
The Senate is expected to consider disaster aid legislation next week.
Hurricane Sandy relief discussions had been delayed since December, as House Republicans scrambled to reach a deal on the ‘fiscal cliff’, allowing an earlier Senate-approved $60.4-billion aid measure to expire. Many fiscal conservatives resisted rushing approval of costly long-term projects as part of an emergency-relief package. In recent weeks, as the House revisited the issue, legislators carved the package into three separate bills, as disagreements mounted over which projects to fund and at what cost.
The latest agreement includes $17 billion to address immediate recovery needs and $33.5 billion for longer-term efforts — including $2.9 billion for construction projects by the Army Corps of Engineers “to reduce future flood risk”. Some scientists have expressed reservations about supporting the restoration of coastlines and, especially, arming them further with levees, seawalls and man-made beaches.
Jeffress Williams, a retired US Geological Survey coastal geologist, says that the notion that coastlines will be rebuilt in a smart way is “just not realistic thinking”. He and a growing number of researchers believe that such physical barriers may disrupt coastal ecosystems and ultimately fail against the rising sea levels and more severe storms projected to result from global climate change.
Others worry that including such projects in emergency legislation will circumvent opportunities for scientific input. “We should make sure we’re absolutely vetting the projects to decide with very good science where it will work, where it won’t work,” says geologist Robert Young, who directs the programme for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.