Changing Flood Insurance for a Changing Climate

Monday, April 8, 2019

The current flooding disasters in the Midwest, as well as the flooding consequences of Hurricanes Michael, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, have damaged thousands of U.S. homes and businesses over the last decade. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), enacted by Congress in 1968, aims to minimize the risk of flood damage as well as reduce flood-related disaster recovery costs. This federally backed program provides insurance to property owners and renters, establishes building and land use requirements and floodplain management practices for local communities to qualify, and maps flood-risk areas to inform development decisions and insurance premiums. But the NFIP assumes that flood risks are static and change little over time, and the effects of climate change are challenging this assumption.

In Changing the National Flood Insurance Program for a Changing Climate, featured in this month’s issue of ELR’s News & Analysis, Michael Burger and Dena Adler of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and Rob Moore and Joel Scata at the Natural Resources Defense Council argue that the NFIP must be revised to address the impending threats of climate change. In their Comment, the authors assess the current state of the program and propose strategies to amend it in light of the increased flooding risks that are due in part to the warming climate. 

The authors propose to restructure the program to ensure the safety of millions of homeowners across the country, reduce taxpayer costs, and prevent rising federal debt for disaster mitigation and recovery. Specifically, the proposed strategies would implement a national “discounts for buyouts” program to move homeowners away from coastal areas, establish a lower threshold for vulnerable properties to comply with floodplain development requirements, increase transparency and monitoring of data on flood damages and costs, and encourage community compliance and strategies for resilience.

Such reforms, they argue, would bring a more robust response to climate change and flooding than the current NFIP, and thus protect communities across the country. With the long-term reauthorization of the NFIP pending in May 2019, the authors encourage Congress to take these reforms into consideration and build federal resilience against flood-related disasters.


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