“It’s basically lather, rinse, repeat,” Steve Ellis, the vice-president of the non-partisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, recently told Politico.Perhaps not surprisingly, the National Flood Insurance Program, which was supposed to pay for itself, is deeply in debt; it owes nearly twenty-five billion dollars to the federal government. Authorization for the program was set to expire on September 30th, but then, last Friday, with Houston still flooded from Hurricane Harvey and Florida bracing for Irma, President Trump signed a bill extending the authorization for three months.
Figuring out how to fix the N.F.I.P. is a real and urgent task. (In 2012, Congress approved a measure that was supposed to raise N.F.I.P. premiums, to better reflect the actuarial risk of the policies; then, in 2014, lawmakers reversed themselves, approving a second measure that effectively countermanded the first.) It might also be seen as a metaphor. The response to a disaster can reduce the damage from future calamities, or it can exacerbate it. As Houston and the battered cities of Florida start to look toward rebuilding, obviously decisions ought to be made with an eye toward reducing future risks. But, given who’s running the country and the states most affected, it’s hard to imagine they will be.
Consider the situation in Florida. In many parts of the state, owing to climate change and the accompanying sea-level rise, rain is no longer a prerequisite for flooding. All that’s needed is an unusually high tide. Floridians call this “sunny-day flooding.” A study published in 2016 in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management found that in Miami Beach the frequency of such flooding had increased by a remarkable four hundred per cent over the previous ten years.
Scientists studying this phenomenon have exhorted Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, to acknowledge the problem and try to figure out how to deal with it. Instead, Scott has prohibited state officials from even talking about climate change.
“It’s more than an absence of leadership,” Eric Buermann, the former board chairman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, who is also the former general counsel to the state’s Republican Party, told the Washington Post last week. “There’s harm being done by denying the problem.”(As it happens, much of Irma’s destruction was caused by wind, rather than by flooding, but here again government policy may have put more people at risk. In Florida, after Hurricane Andrew, which struck in 1992, it became so difficult to get insurance against wind damage that the state formed its own insurance company and offered incentives to induce private companies to enter the market. Now no one is sure whether those private companies will be able to pay out.) Read More