The Trump administration is pushing cities to use eminent domain in order to remove homeowners from flood zones — threatening to withhold federal funds those municipalities need to combat climate change if the cities refuse.
Linda Shi, assistant professor in architecture, art and planning at Cornell University, researches how cities adapt to climate change and recently completed a study of the Massachusetts coastline and its fiscal vulnerability to a changing climate. She says the administration’s reliance on eminent domain is uncoordinated and puts local governments in a bind.
“The federal decision to exercise eminent domain for floodplain buyouts is a bold move, but also completely uncoordinated with other federal and state policies. All federal, state, and local policies have incentivized development in coastal areas, including protective infrastructure built by the Corps, the National Flood Insurance Program, the lack of enforcement of local hazard mitigation plans, and decreased intergovernmental transfers forcing local governments to fiscalize land use and maximize property tax revenues.
“Today, there is little to no relationship between land use development and natural hazards management in this country. Under Trump, the federal government has revoked all former Obama executive orders requiring federal agencies to get trained, coordinate, and incorporate climate change into federal investments, planning, and programs. So, it is incredible that in this context, the Corps chooses to extend eminent domain to buyouts.
“The federal floodplain buyout programs are already notoriously unpopular – for being cumbersome to administer, late in coming, benefiting wealthier and white residents, insensitive how communities function as a unit – so much so that some places now reject floodplain buyouts entirely and create their own locally funded versions.
“After Kelo v. New London, the last major court case on eminent domain saying that it was ok for government to take property for a ‘public purpose’ and then turn it over to a private developer, many local and state governments put a moratorium on eminent domain and said they would not use it for such purposes. Now the Corps’ decision puts local governments in the bind of choosing between much needed federal funding and evicting residents. We need big, bold solutions, but they have to actually make sense together.”
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