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Lawmakers tout report on flood insurance and levees

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) are citing a newly released study of the federal flood insurance program in support of their ongoing efforts to prevent homeowners and businesses from being forced to purchase flood insurance policies if they are already protected by accredited levees.

The senators responded to findings in “Levees and the National Flood Insurance Program: Improving Policies and Practices,” a report released Wednesday by the National Academies of Sciences.

The NAS’s National Research Council found that “at this time there is no sound reason to extend the mandatory purchase requirement — which requires property owners with a federally backed mortgage located in the 100-year floodplain to purchase flood insurance — to areas behind accredited levees.”

Pryor and Cochran successfully argued against such mandates last year during the Senate debate to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) (Public Law 112-141).

“This report endorses our idea that the federal government should not force taxpayers who have already invested in levee protection to buy flood insurance on top of it,” Cochran said. “I am encouraged that FEMA enlisted top scientists to make thoughtful recommendations about this program.  I am hopeful this report will lead to a more realistic understanding of flood risk for all citizens and lead to improvements in the flood insurance program.”

Last June, Cochran and Pryor worked to overturn one-size-fits-all provisions in the NFIP legislation that would have mandated the purchase of insurance and imposed burdensome land-use restrictions for all areas protected by a levee. The senators contended that these provisions would have forced communities to pay multiple times for flood protection — once for constructing and maintaining flood control structures, twice for mandated flood insurance and a third time for mitigation and land-use restrictions.

The 332-page study, which was requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), also recommends that FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should jointly develop a common, risk-based approach to levee assessments, according to a news release from Cochran’s office.

It is unclear at this point what acquiring such tools might cost, and the NAS findings did not address cost. Pryor and Cochran led a successful effort to provide more precision in 2011, convincing FEMA to abandon its “without levees” analysis policy and find an interim solution that provides greater fidelity in flood risk modeling in areas behind levees.

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