Harvey-Houston-Economic Impact

Businesses in Humble, Texas are surrounded Tuesday by floodwaters from Harvey. The Houston that was battered by Harvey is an economic powerhouse whose influence reaches far beyond its region, leading many to worry about when its economy be able to stand up again.

David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Dear President Donald Trump,

While we write this letter, the trees are still bending in near gale-force winds and floodwaters are rushing out of bayous into our homes and neighborhoods. But you should know that the bayous are what attracted the Allen Brothers — two ambitious developers from New York, not unlike yourself — to found Houston in the first place.

In the 19th century, the bayous were a byway for cotton traders. But now they converge at the Houston Ship Channel, the core of our national oil and gas industry.

Hurricane Harvey made first landfall near Corpus Christi, and Houston is still enduring the worst of this ongoing disaster, so it is only appropriate that you’re visiting our sister city to the south today (Monday) for your speech. We’re glad you’re there, and they need your help, too.

But before you leave, Mr. President, and move on to your next speech in Missouri, please take some time to learn about Houston. Schedule a helicopter tour or a flyover in Air Force One so that you can grasp the full range of destruction that has beset our neighborhoods, businesses and, importantly, refineries. The sheer scale of our city, and its role in the international energy economy, can only be seen from a bird’s-eye view.

Houston is no flyover country. We’re the energy capital of the world and responsible for a quarter of U.S. petroleum refining and more than half of all jet fuel. In fact, you have an expert on the topic in your cabinet — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil.

We’re the Fort Knox of oil and gas, and you risk losing untold wealth if the federal government doesn’t muster the resources necessary to help our city repair, rebuild and ensure resilience against the next inevitable storm.

Our city has been pushed to the brink, and the crisis still isn’t over. Homes continue to fill with floodwaters, and thousands seek shelter from a storm of biblical proportions. The number of deaths continues to inch higher, and countless families are finding themselves homeless, their neighborhoods lost to the rising waters.

While millions hunker down, other fellow Houstonians are putting their bodies and souls to the ultimate test.

Think of the doctors and nurses working without rest, the sheriff’s deputies and rescue workers venturing into neighborhoods overwhelmed by waist-high waters, the volunteers who bring comfort to shelters and weekend warriors whose kayaks became a lifeline for stranded families.

As hours without rest turn to days without sleep, these heroes find within themselves a drive — a compassion — that they never knew existed.

Mr. President, these men and women are the soul of our sprawling and diverse Houston. When you speak this morning (Monday) in Corpus Christi, you have the opportunity to help empower their last reserves of energy so they can endure until the final raindrop falls and the bayous return to their banks.

Ronald Reagan once joked that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

That isn’t a joke you hear during a storm.

Now, more than ever, we need help from the government. We need to know that our politicians in Washington, D.C. are working just as hard as our first responders.

You’ve never hesitated before to use the power of your bully pulpit to rally for your cause, nor were you ever one to mince words when promising to fight for the coal miners of West Virginia or steelworkers of Pennsylvania — now you can harness that passion to fight for Houston.

Even for a man prone to hyperbole — we all have our rhetorical tics — it is hard to overstate the massive scale of the ongoing disaster.

A nation is waiting to hear an impassioned plea on behalf of the charities that will help our families in need, like the Houston Food Bank, the Texas Diaper Bank and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which Mayor Sylvester Turner established as a central clearinghouse.

You’ve already told reporters that we can expect rapid action on relief funding, and Democrats and Republicans alike will no doubt agree that an unprecedented storm like Harvey will require a major effort. Calls to offset this emergency spending with cuts elsewhere must be cast aside. Deficits are a debate for another day, and bluster about shutting down the government must end.

Now we have to help a great American city, an economic engine, get back on its feet.

But it can’t end with relief and rebuilding. Houston also needs the resources to harden ourselves against the next inevitable storm.

This means funding for new flood infrastructure — Mike Talbott, former executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, estimated the cost at $26 billion.

Coastal storm surge protection also has to be part of any plan. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a major backer of your presidential campaign, knows all about that.

Our city still lives in the shadows of great politicians like U.S. Reps. Tom Ball and Albert Thomas, who built the flood and bayou infrastructure that transformed Houston from a swampy town into a 20th century energy metropolis. We’re still waiting for a politician with the strength and dedication to build the sustainable cityscape that brings us into the 21st century — and that includes an honest recognition of global warming. We have no doubt that you can be that man if you choose to be.

Mr. President, our worry is that this attention from the White House will recede along with the floodwaters. Several of your tweets during the storm — promoting a friend’s book? — left us concerned that you’re easily distracted from the task at hand. And all too many of your speeches have revealed a startling gap between what appears on the teleprompter and what lies in your heart. Last week we saw a tempered address on Afghanistan erased by a hateful tirade in Phoenix. How long until reassuring rhetoric from Corpus Christi gives way to a less inspiring tone?

“We will get through this. We will come out stronger. And believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before. The rebuilding will begin, and in the end, it will be something very special,” you told reporters on Monday.

If we truly want to come back stronger than ever, then the federal government has to step up with funding and leadership, and the buck stops with one man: President Donald J. Trump.

The Houston Chronicle published this open letter to President Trump on Aug. 28.

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