Type size - +
Personal tools
You are here: Home News Oregon Politicians Attempting to Roll Back Hard-Fought Protections for Salmon and Floodplains

Oregon Politicians Attempting to Roll Back Hard-Fought Protections for Salmon and Floodplains

After years of effort by Portland Audubon and other conservation groups, Oregon is poised to implement important and long overdue protections for Oregon’s floodplains (flood-prone areas). However, some Oregon politicians are now doing the bidding of big developers and trying to make a last-ditch effort to undo these reforms. We will need your help to send a strong message to the Governor and the Oregon Delegation that they need to support these reforms and put protection of our communities, our environment, and our economy above the profits of irresponsible developers.

By Bob Sallinger

After years of effort by Portland Audubon and other conservation groups, Oregon is poised to implement important and long overdue protections for Oregon’s floodplains (flood-prone areas). However, some Oregon politicians are now doing the bidding of big developers and trying to make a last-ditch effort to undo these reforms. We will need your help to send a strong message to the Governor and the Oregon Delegation that they need to support these reforms and put protection of our communities, our environment, and our economy above the profits of irresponsible developers.

The National Flood Insurance Program, implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provides taxpayer-subsidized, low-cost flood insurance to cover risks incurred through construction or rebuilding in floodplains. Without taxpayer subsidies, most building in floodplains would not occur. For years this program has subsidized irresponsible development that puts people, property, and the environment at risk. Today the program is $24 billion in debt, reflecting the irresponsible way in which it has been administered.

In 2009, Portland Audubon and other conservation organizations successfully sued FEMA, asserting that by subsidizing development in critical salmon habitat, the National Flood Insurance Program was harming listed salmon and violating the Endangered Species Act. Despite continual delay tactics by FEMA and politicians more interested in serving the interests of big developers rather than protecting communities, taxpayers, and the environment, the litigation was finally resolved in April 2016, when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a biological opinion, determining that the flood insurance program was “likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of 16 salmon and steelhead species in Oregon. NMFS issued a series of reforms that FEMA must meet when providing federally subsidized flood insurance, in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

These commonsense reforms include requiring municipalities that want to qualify for the federal flood insurance program to update floodplain maps, some of which are decades out of date; restrict development in the most hazardous flood areas; and mitigate for the impacts to the environment caused by floodplain development.

However, just as Oregon is poised to move forward with these long overdue reforms, Representative Peter DeFazio has introduced legislation into Congress that attempts to exempt FEMA from having to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Sadly, Governor Kate Brown has indicated that she supports his efforts. Representative DeFazio makes a number of false arguments in pushing this ill-conceived legislation.

First, Representative DeFazio claims that the new reforms usurp local land-use planning authority. Just the opposite is true. Under Oregon’s land-use planning system, local municipalities are still free to continue to allow irresponsible, dangerous, environmentally destructive development in floodplains just as they have in the past. However, those jurisdictions that do allow irresponsible development in floodplains may no longer continue to qualify for taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance. The reforms do not usurp local control of land-use planning; they simply mean that taxpayers will no longer be required to subsidize insurance for irresponsible development.

Second, Representative DeFazio argues that Oregon’s current land-use system is sufficient to protect floodplains, private property, and the environment. In doing so he is willfully turning a blind eye to on-the-ground reality. The NMFS biological opinion makes it clear that the current land-use regulations have been insufficient to protect salmon and other listed species. And FEMA’s own statistics demonstrate the current system’s failure to protect taxpayers. FEMA has identified 251 Oregon communities as flood prone. These communities have experienced damaging floods in 41 of the last 53 years. Since 1995, there have been 12 flood-related presidential disaster declarations in Oregon. Since 1978, Oregon has had 5,299 flood claims under the National Flood Insurance Program totaling more than $91 million, costs that were directly borne by taxpayers. Oregon currently has more than 31,600 flood insurance policies in place totaling a publicly subsidized liability of more than $7.5 billion dollars. In the face of these statistics, and even as climate change forecasts predict increased risk of major flood events, state and local governments continue to allow the development of floodplains at an alarming pace and in increasingly hazardous locations. Contrary to Representative DeFazio’s assertions, Oregon’s existing land-use regulations have been woefully insufficient to address the risks of developing in floodplains.

Finally, Representative DeFazio has gone so far as to claim that the Federal Flood Insurance Program is not taxpayer subsidized. In fact this federal program was created precisely because private insurance companies either charged very high premiums to cover development in high-risk floodplains or would not insure this activity at all. The program is currently an astounding $24 billion in debt, costs that will in fact be covered by the taxpayer.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has provided a clear, commonsense roadmap to reforming the Federal Flood Insurance Program and a generous timeline to meet these requirements. It is time to move forward with a strategy for federal, state, and local governments along with nongovernmental stakeholders to implement these long overdue reforms. These reforms will not prevent floodplain development altogether. Nor will they usurp local authority. What they will do is provide local jurisdictions with strong incentives to reduce unwise floodplain development and mitigate for floodplain impacts when construction does take place. These are the reforms needed to protect our economy, communities, ecosystems, and the taxpayer who for far too long has subsidized outrageously irresponsible floodplain development practices. 

Please take action today and let Governor Brown and the Congressional Delegation know that you want them to support implementing reforms to the Federal Flood Insurance Program: bit.ly/protectfloodplains

Document Actions
powered by Plone | site by Groundwire Consulting and served with clean energy