If you were planning to build a new house, or a road, or bridge or some other form of infrastructure that you wanted to withstand the test of time and extreme weather, you'd want to do your research and get some insight on how climate change could impact your area, right? Well, for the past two years the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment was aiming to try to provide more concrete guidance on infrastructure projects, until this weekend when the Trump administration disbanded it.
The charter for the 15-person panel, which includes academic scientists, local officials and corporate representatives expired Sunday, and on Friday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting administrator Ben Friedman informed the committee chair that the agency would not be renewing the panel, effectively killing it.
The panel helps assemble the National Climate Assessment, which is supposed to be issued every four years, but has only been released three times since a law was passed in 1990 calling for the quadrennial reports.
"What the committee was doing was preparing a report about how to provide to the public and city managers, investors, other people who are trying to plan for the future where what they are planning is affected by climate conditions," said Richard Moss, an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences and the chairman of the advisory committee.
A statement posted by NOAA on the committee's webpage say “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.” That assessment is set to be released next year, and it's already been a point of contention for the Trump administration.
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an expert from the report which concluded that the average global temperature has increased drastically since the 1980s and that humans had directly contributed to the change.
The move to disband the committee is just the latest step by the Trump administration to chip away at climate change protections.
Trump and other critics of these environmental restrictions on new developments say they aren't necessary and slow down the process of rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure. They argue that state and local officials should be left to determine which restrictions should be set in their areas.
Bu Moss warned that without the National Climate Change Assessment and the panel's advice, developers could end up making poor investments that could hurt people down the road.
"Without that information people will be making investments poorly, they’ll be wasting money, putting people and prosperity at risk. Why should we do that? I mean, I think it’s very short sighted. It’s taking something that’s non-political and unfortunately putting it in to the broader culture war that currently exists around what should just be straight scientific issues like climate change," he said.
Richard Wright, the former chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Committee (ASCE) on Adaptation to a Changing Climate, says he has worked with the advisory panel to help establish what research needs to be done for engineering projects across the country.
"Right now building codes and standards are based on historical records for climate and weather extremes. but the effect of non-stationary and the changing climate may invalidate the historical records when we're trying to design things like drainage systems and building and bridges that are designed to stand for 50 or 100 years," Wright explained.
He said without the advisory panel, the ASCE will likely have to work directly with federal government agencies to figure out what research needs to be done in order to improve building projects and ensure they can withstand extreme weather in the future.
"The dialogue is easier with the panel. it's a less bureaucratic structure," he said.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order to speed up the permitting process for infrastructure developers. Trump told reporters at a press conference at Trump Tower that if a project wasn't environmentally responsible, then it wouldn't be approved.
But his executive order also stripped away an Obama-era order which required that projects built in flood-prone areas take projected sea-level rise into account.