WC hopes to make this part of an irregular series of blog posts discussing the impacts of climate change on the United States, with a focus on some of the unexpected impacts. Because climate change is as real and as serious as a heart attack, no matter what some may say.
The National Flood Insurance Program is a federal office in FEMA that issues subsidized flood insurance to citizens and businesses. The idea is to ease the recovery from flood disasters by providing a source of affordable insurance. But there are three very serious problems with NFIP.
First, there is a tension between making premiums affordable and keeping the program fiscally solvent. As a result of setting premiums too low, NFIP is some $20.5 billion in debt; it has paid out $20.5 billion more in claims than it has received in premiums. That’s kind of a problem. If NFIP were a private insurer it would long since have fallen into receivership, the insurance industry equivalent of bankruptcy. Yet if premiums are raised, the program becomes unaffordable to more people and the uninsured components of disaster recovery climb.
Second, climate change has significantly increased the number and severity of flood events. Flood zone maps are seriously out of date for changed condition, especially in ocean side communities. The committee that is supposed to update those maps is tube-locked; a combination of delayed appointments and delayed security clearances has meant the mapping committee has been unable to meet since September 2018. Some have suggested that the delay in re-constituting the mapping committee is intentional, to preserve the old maps. So flood insurance policies continue to get issued based on data everyone knows is bad.
Lastly, one of the key purposes of NFIP is to get expensive housing the commercial businesses out of the flood plain and on to higher ground. While the latest data WC can find is from 2016, it appears that that goal has failed. In fact, the combination of continued development and climate change-induced changes in flood patterns have put even more property at risk. The pool of property targeted by NFIP is increasing, not decreasing.
NFIP as presently enacted is unsustainable. Not only are oceans rising as they warm; warmer air and warmer oceans mean much more water vapor in the air, which means more rainfall and more catastrophic rainfall. For example, Ellicott City, Maryland had a 1,000 year flood – a flood event that occurs, on average, once every 1,000 years – in 2016. It had another 1,000 year flood in 2018. Pretty clearly, climate change is having an impact.
What needs to happen is a tougher federal stance on where flood insurance will be subsidized and where it will not. No insurance should be available in known flood zones. And the maps of flood zones have to be updated.
AS WC write this blog post, yet another very severe rain event is building over the eastern United States:
But first, of course, the Trump Administration will have to admit that anthropogenic climate change is real.