U.S. Disbands Group That Prepared Cities for Climate Shocks

Updated on
From
  • Community Resilience Panel was created by Obama in 2015
  • ‘One of the last federal bodies’ to talk about climate change
Fighting Climate Change, Without the U.S.

The Trump administration has terminated a cross-agency group created to help local officials protect their residents against extreme weather and natural disasters.

The Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems was created by the Obama administration in 2015 within the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Its chairman, Jesse Keenan, told members at a meeting Monday that its charter was being dissolved and that meeting would be its last.

“It was one of the last federal bodies that openly talked about climate change in public," Keenan said in an email to Bloomberg News. “I can say that we tried our best and we never self-censored!”

A spokeswoman for NIST, Jennifer Huergo, said in an email Tuesday that the decision to end the panel was made by staff within the institute’s Community Resilience Program, who "conducted an assessment of the panel and its mission and determined that a national workshop would be a more effective and efficient way to support the goals of the program." She said the decision was made "without influence of any NIST political leadership."

The group is the latest in a series of federal climate-related bodies to be altered or terminated since President Donald Trump took office. In June, the administration told scientists who sat on the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors that their terms weren’t being renewed. In August, Trump ended the advisory committee attached to the National Climate Assessment, the quadrennial review of climate science. Trump has called climate change a "hoax" designed to make the U.S. less competitive with China.

"This was the federal government’s primary external engagement for resilience in the built environment," Keenan, a researcher at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design who focuses on climate adaptation. His role on the panel was unpaid. The panel included representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other departments, as well as city planners and outside experts.

The group advised local officials on making buildings, communications, energy systems, transportation and water more able to withstand severe weather and climate change. That mission made the group especially vulnerable, Keenan said.

Huergo, the NIST spokeswoman, disputed the characterization of the panel as an "advisory group," saying instead that it "brought together a wide community of stakeholders across different sectors and disciplines to promote collaboration in support of strengthening community resilience." And she said that NIST takes part in other types of external engagement on that topic, including workshops and conferences.

Since its creation in 2015, the group has identified potential improvements to building codes, worked on guides for reestablishing cell phone service, and advised municipal utilities on resuming operations after a disaster, among other things.

Brendan Doyle, who was the EPA’s representative to the panel until he retired in August, said the idea for the panel came from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. 

"It was a way of helping communities not only through the recovery process, but to help them adjust to a new normal, in ways that would make them more resilient to the next disaster," he said.

Rachel Minnery, senior director of sustainable development policy for the American Institute of Architects and part of the panel’s leadership, said it had played a valuable role.

"As a nation we have a long way to go to create more resilient communities," Minnery said by email.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE