Congress Should Not Block Federal Flood Protection Standard

Flood damages are increasing throughout the United States. Rising sea levels and changing precipitation patterns due to climate change are part of the reason. Another reason is we continue to build in areas that are vulnerable to flooding, a costly mistake we make over and over again. That's why robust implementation of the new federal flood protection standard is so important.

The new standard will ensure that federal agencies use a safer estimate of flood risk when making decisions about what to build, where to build, and which local and state projects receive federal funding. If it is necessary to build something in a floodplain, the standard requires that projects be elevated to one of three options: the 100-year flood elevation plus at least 2 feet, the elevation of the 500-year flood, or to an elevation that factors in future flood risks due to climate change. The result is tax-payer funded infrastructure is better protected.

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Federal facilities would be built to withstand more severe floods under the new standard. (NASA Earth Observatory Image)

Unfortunately, some Congressional members have already tried to force the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard into oblivion. On April 30th, Representatives Boustany (R-La.) and Abraham (R-La.) pushed through by voice vote an amendment to the FY2016 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill that would prohibit certain federal agencies from using funds to implement Executive Order 13690. This backdoor ambush is detrimental to the American public. The standard has the potential to save billions of dollars in budget-busting disaster costs due to flooding; disaster costs which are increasingly borne by the federal government.

Now it looks as if the Senate may do the same. On May 21st, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the FY2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. The Senate bill mirrors much of the language contained in the House bill. This is bad news for the standard and demonstrates a short-sighted effort to kill off a policy that promises to provide long-term costs savings benefits to the American people.

Congress should not be blocking the implementation of common sense flood protection standards. We need to build things smarter and safer. Organizations of very diverse interests both see common ground in better flood protection standards. NRDC and the conservative R Street Institute are both supportive, as are groups like the Association of State Floodplain Managers. Implementation of the standard is the right move for the nation for it is cheaper to build higher today than it is to completely rebuild tomorrow.