FEMA Seeks to Move Construction Away From Flood Zones

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Obama administration emergency managers are proposing to toughen the requirements for federally funded construction projects to try to make flood-prone communities more resilient to the increased risks of flooding expected to be caused by global warming.

The Federal Emchattahoochee_flood_map2ergency Management on Monday proposed the rules, which would require federally funded construction to take place on higher ground, farther from floodplain areas.

“Flooding is the most common and costly type of natural disaster in the United States, and floods are expected to be more frequent and more severe over the next century due in part to the projected effects of climate change,” the agency said in its proposal, published in the Federal Register. “This proposed rule would ensure that FEMA Federally Funded Projects are designed to be resilient to both current and future flood risks.”

The proposed rule follows a controversial executive order that President Obama issued trying to implement similar requirements.

While likely to generate opposition from some business groups and perhaps local government officials, the proposal received a warm welcome from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

“Sea level rise and the increased risk of flooding are the most recognizable impacts of climate change,” said Rob Moore, senior water policy analyst with the NRDC. “Recent floods in Louisiana, Maryland and West Virginia show how extreme weather and the resulting floods are disasters we need to prepare for. This policy recognizes the sort of flooding risk we are facing now and is likely to get worse in the decades to come.”

In general, the FEMA proposal would require federally funded projects to be built 2 feet about the 1-percent-chance annual flood level — the so-called “100-year-flood” — while for certain projects like hospitals and nursing homes, FEMA could use even tougher standards or apply the best available climate science to determine potential future flood conditions over the lifetime of the project.

“Ensuring that taxpayer-funded investments are built to a standard that reduces future losses is common sense. Instead of continuing to rely on post-disaster spending, the country has to be forward thinking and help reduce risk to people, property and taxpayers,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We applaud the administration for moving forward with this initiative.”

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