Press Release

NRDC: Congress Wrong to Try to Block Federal Flood Standards, New Interactive Mapping Tool Shows

Blocking Flood Protection Standards in face of Climate Change Would Harm Taxpayers, Communities; Top 10 States Receiving Federal Flood Funds: LA, NY, FL, TX, MS, NJ, IA, AL, NC, CA

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 30, 2015) – By showing how rebuilding in the wake of floods leads to steep federal costs, a new interactive map and analysis unveiled today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) illustrates why it’s so important for Congress to keep in place the Obama Administration’s updated federal flood protection standards.

The updated standards will guide the design of federally funded projects along coastlines or near floodplains. They require an additional margin of safety and account for the rising risk of flooding and the future impacts of sea level rise and climate change. The President issued an executive order earlier this year that updated the standards, which dated back to the 1970s.

However, Republicans in Congress are trying to block the standards by adding riders to must-pass spending bills.

“If members of Congress block federal agencies from implementing these common-sense flood standards, they’ll be leaving millions of Americans hung out to dry,” said NRDC senior policy analyst Rob Moore.

NRDC, an environmental advocacy group, compiled data on nearly $50 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance Grants for all federally declared flood disasters dating back to 1998. NRDC found that the majority of these funds – nearly $27 billion – have helped rebuild flood-damaged public infrastructure projects like bridges, schools, roads and hospitals.

These are exactly the kinds of projects that would be made less vulnerable under the updated flood protection standards. When funding projects in floodplains or near coastlines, federal agencies will require an additional margin of safety for flood risk, including estimates of future sea level rise and other climate impacts. The standards will ensure that public buildings and infrastructure are sited and designed so they less vulnerable to floods that could happen today and decades from now, when the risk of flooding will be far greater.

“It doesn’t always make sense to rebuild the same thing in the same place after a flood,” said Moore. “Whether you’re rebuilding in the wake of a flood, or building something new, we need to protect against future floods.”

The riders that would block the flood standards are among more than 100 anti-environmental provisions that Republicans in Congress are trying to slip through as part of the spending bills, which must be passed by Dec. 11.  The provisions are called riders because they do not affect spending levels in the bills at all, but are attached to those bills to make it harder to vote against or veto the policy changes. 

NRDC’s interactive map tool, analysis, related blogs and infographics are https://www.nrdc.org/resources/need-flood-protection-standards. The detailed map allows users to search by county and state to see how much in Public Assistance grants have been spent there.

NRDC’s analysis of the FEMA data also reveals the following:

  • The top 10 states receiving federal public assistance flooding grants over a nearly two-decade period were: Louisiana ($13.7 billion), New York ($9 billion), Florida ($5.1 billion), Texas ($3.8 billion), Mississippi ($3.4 billion), New Jersey ($1.8 billion), Iowa ($1.4 billion), Alabama ($693 million), North Carolina ($584 million), and California ($576 million).
  • Between 1998 and 2014, flood-related damages to public buildings alone cost the federal government $12.6 billion. Public utilities ($7.4 billion), roads and bridges ($5.5 billion), and water control facilities like levees, dams, and pumps ($1 billion) also had steep flood damage costs.
  • For some counties, flooding is a regular occurrence – and an occurrence that in many parts of the country will become even more frequent due to climate change. For example, two parishes in Louisiana – Jefferson and St. Bernard – have each had 10 federal flood disasters declared since 1998. In Mississippi, Harrison, Hancock, Jackson and Pearl River counties have each had six federal flood disasters declared.
  • Despite representing states with a higher risk of future floods due to climate change, Sen. Cochrane (Miss.), Sen. Vitter (La.), and Sen. Cornyn (Texas) oppose implementing the more protective federal flood standards.

“The standards aren't just good environmental sense, they make good fiscal sense too,” said Eli Lehrer, president and co-founder of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank. “They'll save lives, save money and protect the environment.”

“Severe flooding is impacting homeowners and businesses across the country at an alarming rate. As we experience more extreme weather events due to climate change, this problem will only continue to grow,” said Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois. “The proposed Federal Flood Standards will help protect federally funded projects near coastlines and flood plains and improve the Nation’s preparedness and resilience against destructive flooding.”

Under the old standards, federally funded projects only had to be built to withstand a so-called 100-year flood. But floods of that magnitude happen far more frequently now, so the old standards left public facilities vulnerable.

Under the new standards, federal agencies would evaluate whether it makes sense to relocate damaged infrastructure to higher ground and whether it would be safer to build new infrastructure elsewhere. If it can’t be relocated, then the next-best option is to build it higher, so flood waters can’t reach it. 

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