U.S. Senate Should Seize Opportunity to Strengthen Disaster Aid Bill, Says The Nature Conservancy
ARLINGTON, VA. | December 20, 2017
The U.S. House of Representatives unveiled a disaster aid bill (H.R. 4667) yesterday to fund recovery efforts from this year’s hurricanes and wildfires. With the House and Senate both expected to vote on the bill this week, time is short for Congress to finalize the bill’s provisions.
“The House provided a good starting point with its disaster recovery bill, but it doesn’t fully leverage all of the agencies and programs that could enable us to rebuild communities, restore and enhance natural habitats, and revitalize local economies in ways that reduce our risk from future storm damage,” said Lynn Scarlett, co-chief external affairs officer at The Nature Conservancy. “Now the Senate can improve the bill by adding important measures that will help American communities harness the power of nature to recover and become more resilient as they prepare for future storms.”
Natural infrastructure (such as wetlands, living shorelines and oyster reefs) generates significant economic and protection benefits, as well as avoided financial losses for coastal communities.
“This bill also presents a perfect opportunity to enact a comprehensive wildfire funding fix—which is both urgently needed and broadly supported,” added Scarlett. “Passing a wildfire funding fix as a part of the disaster bill now will help ensure adequate resources for fighting future wildfire disasters and fund work that can help reduce risks of future disasters.”
The Conservancy asks the Senate to improve resilience and reduce the risk of future disasters by adding several new provisions to its version of the disaster aid bill:
- A comprehensive fire funding fix, which would: 1) address the continued erosion of agency budgets due to increasing suppression costs, 2) access disaster funding for extraordinarily costly fires, and 3) significantly reduce the need to “borrow” from non-suppression accounts and programs;
- Funding to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s science, planning, technical assistance, and project expertise on coastal resilience;
- A fund dedicated to investing in coastal and riverine flood risk reduction projects, similar to the one created after Hurricane Sandy; and
- Ensuring funds for rebuilding federal facilities can be used to ensure infrastructure can withstand future storms and floods.
In addition, the Conservancy detailed several important measures it supports in H.R. 4667, and encourages the Senate to also include in its version of the bill:
- Watershed and flood prevention and operations at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service;
- An Army Corps of Engineers study on flood and storm damage reduction, which will help determine where investments in natural and nature-based features should be made to better protect the most vulnerable areas;
- Energy Department funding to invest in electricity delivery and reliability;
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief funding, a portion of which will be allotted for Hazard Mitigation Grant Funds to assist risk reduction efforts;
- U.S. Geological Survey surveys and research on the impacts of the hurricanes;
- Housing and Urban Development, Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief, which enables communities to invest in a broad range of risk reduction activities;
- A dedicated stream of funding for FEMA’s Pre-disaster Assistance program;
- Incentives for states to enhance resilience;
- Allowing fire management assistance for disasters that are declared by the president as well as those that are not; and
- Making a range of forest management activities eligible for Hazard Mitigation Grant program funding.
Finally, the Conservancy also noted its hope for the Senate to remove a measure in the House bill which would exempt FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program from all Endangered Species Act obligations. The organization urged Congress to consider this complex issue and, if deemed appropriate, a more narrowly tailored solution through a deliberative process to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program.
“Between 1980 and 2016, damages associated with extreme weather have cost the U.S. $1.1 trillion,” concluded Scarlett. “Investing in natural infrastructure is a cost-effective approach to helping address disaster recovery and meeting growing infrastructure demands. We hope the Senate will consider our recommendations, and look forward to working with Congress enact these smart solutions that are good for nature and people.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.