House Dem calls for reworking of federal disaster programs

"We provide federal money to put people back in harm's way, and sometimes provide infrastructure to make future risky development worse."

ADVERTISEMENT
As an example, he said FEMA often pays to fortify beaches, which can cause more drastic erosion elsewhere or shift storm damage to other areas down the coast.

"By giving the illusion of protection, more people locate in dangerous areas, and the vicious cycle is repeated, with untold damage to families, with loss of life, loss of property, disruption of business," he said.

Blumenauer's comments are similar to those that some conservatives have made in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which reopened some discussion on the extent to which the federal government is actually subsidizing construction in areas that are known to be susceptible to natural disasters. But Blumenauer said it would be "foolish" to go so far as a suggestion by 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who called for a privatization of FEMA.

At the same time, Blumenauer said the need for a federal disaster agency "doesn't mean a permanent entitlement to risky behavior."

"The notion that this is all going to be a one-way street for the federal taxpayer to pay for repetitive disaster costs is something that needs to be challenged and rejected out of hand," he said.

Blumenauer offered several specific suggestions on how to reform FEMA, mostly in the area of spreading responsibility for the cost of disaster more evenly between homeowners and local governments.

"What if we required individual property owners to assume more of the cost of disaster mitigation and recovery, by paying the full cost of their flood insurance premiums, and having recovery benefits provided on a declining scale after repetitive incidents?" he asked.

"What if local developers were required to ensure their buildings withstood the cost of certain foreseeable disaster events? Would they be less likely to pressure local governments to approve risky development proposals?

"If individual homeowners absorbed more of their costs, with slightly higher home prices, would it make it less likely that they're going to be buying homes in dangerous locations?"