In Letter to President, Miss. Senator Says Public & Congress Should Have Input on Important Flood Risk Standard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) asked President Obama to cease work on his administration’s efforts to administratively issue and implement a new federal flood risk standard that would have significant economic impacts and should rightfully include input from the public and Congress.

Cochran on Thursday sent President Obama a letter arguing that his intention to administratively issue a new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) would have far-reaching economic, policy and budgetary consequences that the Congress and public should be allowed to address.

“Your Administration has for several years been developing this standard, which would have significant economic consequences well beyond the scope of the federal government. I am concerned that you may soon finalize this policy without any opportunity for input or scrutiny from the public or Congress. Promulgating such an important policy unilaterally would undermine long-term viability of the standard and exacerbate distrust between the Congress and your Administration,” Cochran said.

At issue is the new FFRMS being developed by a multi-agency workgroup known as the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group (MitFLG) to reduce flood-risk to all federally-funded projects or investments ( Operating without significant public or congressional input, MitFLG is chaired by the FEMA administrator and includes senior-level representation from at least 15 federal departments and agencies.*

Cochran expressed concern that Obama may soon issue a new executive order related to FFRMS that requires the adoption of “the most recent science on expected sea-level rise and take into account the impacts of climate change” to create higher base flood level elevations for federally funded investments, such as new construction, flood mitigations projects or Hazard Mitigation Grants.

“While seeking to ensure federal investments are resilient to floods and other hazards is a commendable goal, compelling government agencies to spend taxpayer dollars to further mitigate against undefined threats is a step that merits careful scrutiny. The cascading economic effects this action could have on coastal and riverine economies nationwide is significant. The public deserves to understand the costs, benefits, and scientific rationale behind any such standard before it is issued. Its issuance alone could stifle housing markets and slow economic recovery,” Cochran wrote to the President.

Cochran also pointed out that Congress has worked in a bipartisan manner during the 112th and 113th Congresses to debate and pass legislation reforming flood risk policies, including the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that implemented comprehensive flood insurance reforms. Those actions indicate clear congressional interest in the establishment and implementation of new base flood elevations for federal investments.

“Congress has clearly demonstrated that it is willing to act in a bipartisan manner on issues related to flood risk. This makes your apparent decision to act alone and without adequate transparency even more disconcerting,” Cochran said.