Congress, time for tough love for Texas

Christie slams Cruz for voting against Sandy
Christie slams Cruz for voting against Sandy

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Christie slams Cruz for voting against Sandy 02:25

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  • Errol Louis: In 2012, several Texas lawmakers voted against a Sandy recovery aid package for New York and New Jersey
  • Congress should give Texas the money it needs now, but on condition that Texas invest in sensible environmental planning, writes Louis

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)The shoe's on the other muddy foot for Texas Republicans who attempted to block relief and recovery aid to New York and New Jersey in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 -- and are now pleading for levels of aid that could reach $160 billion, which would be the largest emergency aid package in US history.

A perfect way to repay their hypocrisy would be to deliver every penny of requested aid, but with strict requirements that Texas end its years of dithering and finally implement sensible environmental planning.
The region's shoddy, inadequate coastal defenses and vulnerability to flooding has been widely known in Texas for years. As the Houston Chronicle noted last year: "If there is a consensus among conservationists, engineers, ecologists, hydrologists, urban planners, climatologists and other experts regarding Houston's prospects in a time of climate change, it is that neither city nor county officials have taken adequate steps to address the realities imposed by life on a rainy coastal plain."
    Further warnings came in "Hell and High Water," an extensive investigation published by the Texas Tribune and ProPublica in March 2016.
    The warnings weren't just media hype. As recently as 2008, a storm called Ike was on a collision course with Houston, but shifted at the last minute. It still killed 74 people and caused nearly $30 billion in damage, making it the third-costliest hurricane after Katrina and Sandy.
    Shortly after that catastrophe, researchers at Texas A&M proposed a string of barriers, dubbed the "Ike Dike," that would replace a century-old, 17-foot seawall with a taller, state-of-the-art barrier that would include floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay.
    Local officials wasted years taking baby steps toward a solution. In 2013, the state Legislature created a special committee to study a coastal barrier system; the committee had only met once by the time the Texas Tribune article appeared in March 2016. In 2015 and 2016, an alliance of six county executives -- which had formed in 2010 -- finally issued a study on how to proceed, and, like Texas A&M, recommended major investments to prevent coastal flooding.
    There were a lot of studies, mappings and dire predictions of what might happen -- everything except actual funding proposals.
    The congressional delegation wasn't much help, either. In the course of its investigation, the Texas Tribune contacted every one of the 36 members of congress from Texas: only four agreed to talk about the problem.
    One of the few to speak up was Randy Weber, a Republican who represents Galveston and some Houston suburbs near the coast. "I've been pushing as much as I can," Weber told the Tribune, describing failed efforts to secure funding for an upgraded coastal barrier. "Obviously, if we could get one of the senators to step up and champion it, it would go a great way."
    Ironically enough, Weber is one of eight Texas GOP congressmen who voted against providing much-needed aid to New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy -- a group now being dubbed the "Comeuppance Caucus."
    Not all Texas leaders have been negligent: Earlier this year, more than 60 local officials led by Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting $15 billion to finally get started on the coastal barrier project.
    But let's remember that coastal protection, better weather prediction, a reserve fund for future disasters and other forward-looking parts of the Sandy aid package were shamefully and falsely condemned as "pork" by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and his congressional cohorts.
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    As Congress prepares to do the right thing for Texas, it should hold at least one reality-check hearing. In that public forum, lawmakers should require Cruz and other Texas leaders to publicly acknowledge that they have squandered years that should have been spent strengthening the state against storm damage.
    And Texas leaders should be compelled to include the Ike Dike or an equivalent seawall plan in whatever emergency aid gets delivered. That's not a comeuppance; it's common sense.