Today, the U.S. Senate took up a bill called the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 (S.2284). It’s basically a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program whereby individuals living in floodplains (areas near coasts or waterways) can buy flood insurance from a federal government program administered by FEMA. Unfortunately, while this is a well intentioned program, it has had the impact of incentivizing development in some of very areas most susceptible to flooding. The rates the program has charged are well below market and, as a result, it’s bankrupt — $18 billion in debt to the treasury. So why am I writing about this on our Climate Security Act blog?

Well, the simple fact is that unless we dramatically reduce our emissions we’ll face more intense and severe hurricanes, continued sea level rise, storm surge and greater seasonal flooding in certain parts of the country.

Kerry Emanuel, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown that, since the 1970s, major storms have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent—an increase that he attributes to global warming. Imagine what more might be ahead if we don’t take action?

What we might see are not just hurricanes in the Gulf Coast but more and more along the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S.If a category 3 hurricane hit New York City, scientists project a storm surge of 25 feet at JFK airport and flooding of much of southern Brooklyn, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island.

Watching the debate on the flood insurance bill in the Senate was both hopeful and troubling. On the plus side the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Wicker (R-Mississippi) that would have created a whole new area of below cost, taxpayer subsidized wind damage insurance for development and re-development in coastal areas — encouraging more development in the areas at greatest risk from climate change.

The troubling part of the debate: there was little or no mention of climate change. It should have been front and center in the debate. Coastal Senators like Mary Landrieu who had lots of amendments to the flood insurance program didn’t say a word about how unless we confront global warming hurricanes like Katrina and Rita will come again and again.

We need to flood the Senate with this message: the Climate Security Act will help reduce the risks of hurricanes, sea level rise, storm surge and flooding. This bill is the best possible insurance policy we can have as a country.

– Adam Kolton, Director, Congressional and Federal Affairs, National Wildlife Federation

Published: May 8, 2008