White House Attacks Endangered Species in Flood Insurance Request

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WASHINGTON— The White House yesterday requested $12 billion in hurricane relief disaster funding and $16 billion in debt forgiveness from Congress for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program — which would accompany plans to strip endangered species of protections nationwide.

As part of a set of proposed reforms to the flood insurance program, the White House is recommending sweeping changes that would gut protections for dozens of endangered species found in flood-prone areas. 

Letting FEMA completely ignore harms to endangered species from development in high-risk flooding areas is just dumb,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Building in such sensitive areas sets back recovery of imperiled wildlife, and these developments are exactly the kind of boondoggles that have put the National Flood Insurance Program billions in the red, costing taxpayers dearly.”

The program helps to underwrite insurance in the country’s most flood-prone areas. In exchange for subsidizing insurance coverage, it encourages communities to adopt and enforce floodplain-management regulations to minimize the impacts of floods. Because the program funds even the highest risk development, which would never qualify for private insurance, the program is over $25 billion in debt.

Beginning 20 years ago with the highly endangered Key deer, multiple federal courts have concluded FEMA must consider the impact of development in endangered species habitat as part of its review process for providing flood insurance. Other courts have said FEMA must consider those impacts on Puget Sound killer whales and endangered salmon in the Northwest.

The U.S. House of Representatives included language in both H.R. 2825 — the Department of Homeland Security reauthorization bill that passed the House this summer — and H.R. 2548, the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2017, to completely eliminate all requirements that the agency consider the needs of endangered species in its flood insurance programs. This legislation has been championed by Rep. Louis Barletta (R-Penn.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

“Gutting protections for endangered species is the opposite of flood insurance reform. It’s the epitome of wasteful spending,” said Hartl. “We can protect the most important places for the Key deer to survive and allow responsible development to occur, but it won’t happen if FEMA can completely ignore likely impacts to endangered species.”

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