Senators urging peers to overturn flood insurance provision

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have launched an effort to convince their colleagues to overturn a provision in Senate legislation that would require federal flood insurance coverage in areas already protected by levees, dams or other flood control structures.

Cochran and Pryor are asking their colleagues to join them in signing a bipartisan letter to the Senate Banking Committee that asks for reconsideration of Section 107 of the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Bill that would expand required insurance coverage to “areas of residual risk” that are located behind levees, near dams or other flood control structures.

“The National Flood Insurance Program must be reformed, and I believe the Senate Banking Committee has done yeoman’s work on crafting bipartisan reform legislation. I do, however, have grave concerns about some of the provisions in the bill, particularly ones that create new flood insurance coverage mandates on families and businesses that are already protected by strong levees and dams,” Cochran said. “The blanket approach taken in the current bill should be changed in order to ensure fair treatment for those protected properties.”

Section 107 of the Senate bill would expose certain homeowners and businesses protected by properly constructed and maintained flood control structures to an arbitrary requirement to purchase government-subsidized flood insurance policies. The bill gives the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency the discretion to impose the requirement and, in turn, correlating land-use restrictions.

Cochran and Pryor contend that the provision would unjustifiably and inequitably impose financial and economic development hardships in protected areas that have only a one in 500 chance of flooding in a given year based on actuarial analysis. Ironically, the bill would not require the same insurance purchase requirement on properties without levee protection, which have a one in 100 chance of flooding.

There is no schedule set for Senate consideration of the NFIP reauthorization bill approved by the Banking Committee. The NFIP program is currently operating on the latest in a series of short-term extensions, which will continue its authorization through Nov. 18.

Congress created the NFIP in 1973 to make flood insurance available when private insurance is not offered.  Under current law, the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses modeling tools to determine the boundaries of Special Flood Hazard Areas. These areas are generally defined by FEMA as those with a one in 101 or greater chance of flooding in a given year.

Cochran and Pryor successfully joined forces earlier this year by collecting 27 Senate signatures on a Feb. 3 letter to FEMA that eventually led to the overturning of the  agency’s “without levees” modeling policy, which completely disregarded unaccredited flood control infrastructure during flood modeling and hazard area mapping.

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