K Street gathers strength behind Hurricane Sandy relief bill

Lobbyists for beach and coastal towns have sprung into action on a $60.4 billion relief package for communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy. 

While several on K Street are focused on ensuring that the aid to storm-damaged towns is adequate, lobbyists also see an opportunity to shape coastal management policy for years to come. 

Proposals from both President Obama and the Senate could change how the federal government responds to storms, as well as how local municipalities work to prepare for future disasters.

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“We are very interested and paying close attention to this,” said Tony Pratt, the vice president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. “It’s very comprehensive, and we are particularly pleased that it addresses our concerns not just on recovery but on mitigation and resilience.”

Pratt, who is also administrator of shoreline and waterway management for the state of Delaware, said his group would soon send a letter to Capitol Hill supporting the Senate bill.

There are several funding measures in the Senate package that could reduce future storm damage, according to Pratt, such as $197 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to stabilize coastal ecosystems.

“It is looking at wetlands, beaches and dunes as a coastal protection system that present a shock-absorbing system to prevent further storm damage down the road. The value in rebuilding these systems, as reflected by that number, is a positive sign,” Pratt said.

Further, $3.5 billion is slated for the Army Corps of Engineers to help fund new construction, as well as conduct investigations into its work. 

“We very much support that forward-thinking process for mitigation, not just recovery,” Pratt said. “This is investment against future damages by looking to improve upon our previous vulnerabilities.” 

The Senate was expected to begin debate on the legislation on Monday. Passage of the bill would lead to a conference committee with the House, since the measure has been tacked on to a spending bill that the lower chamber has already approved.

Howard Marlowe, president of lobby firm Marlowe & Co., is among those keeping a close eye on the bill. He has several beach towns as clients, but said he’s lobbying for policy changes, not relief money.

“The thrust of it is to prepare a mechanism that reduces risk and damage for the future,” Marlowe said. “You are not going to have people retreating from lower Manhattan, or from New Jersey either.” 

Others on K Street are monitoring the bill for local government authorities.

Mitch Rose Strategic Consulting has been hired by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to lobby on “Supplemental Appropriations — Hurricane Sandy,” according to the firm’s lobbying registration released last week.

Further, Winning Washington Strategies is lobbying on the Hurricane Sandy relief package for the township of Long Beach, N.J., which was devastated by the storm.

Also, big names from the business world have lent their lobbying support. In a letter sent to congressional leaders last Thursday, more than 125 CEOs from companies like JetBlue, Mastercard, Morgan Stanley and Time Warner urged Capitol Hill to pass the relief package.

“We are fully cognizant of the fiscal challenges facing this country, but we believe that failure to expeditiously fund storm relief and recovery will severely weaken this region and worsen our nation’s overall fiscal condition. We urge you to quickly pass the $60 billion in supplemental emergency funding for the region,” said the letter, which was organized by the Partnership for New York City.

Politicians from the affected states have made stops in Washington to push for aid. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) have all met with lawmakers to push for the relief bill. 

However, critics of the legislation worry that the rush to approve relief funding will result in wasted government funds. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, said the Senate’s supplemental appropriations package was not very forward-thinking.

Ellis noted that the bill has authorized billions in new funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild its projects, but little in the way of resources for analyzing what went wrong during the storm.

“While at the same time they are given billions for rebuilding all these projects, the Senate has tacked on $500,000 for a study to look back at how these projects performed in the storm,” Ellis said. “They are putting the cart before the horse here.” 

Conservative groups like the Club for Growth have come out against the bill, calling it “overpriced” and laden with pork.

Marlowe said local communities shouldn’t wait to get into the lobbying game. Congress will lose momentum to act next year unless it’s pushed to move forward on legislation during the lame-duck session, he said.

“The next thing is to put pressure on Congress now and tell them to not wait until next year. If you don’t get a decent chunk of money now, you are going to have more trouble getting it next year. It is going to fade from people’s memories,” Marlowe said.