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Changing the National Flood Insurance Program for a Changing Climate

April 2019

Citation: ELR 10320

Author: Dena Adler, Michael Burger, Rob Moore, and Joel Scata

Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in 1968 to reduce flood damages nationwide and ease the federal government’s financial burden for providing disaster recovery. To achieve this goal, the program was designed to perform three primary functions: (1) provide federally backed insurance to property owners and renters; (2) establish minimum requirements for building, land use, and floodplain management practices that local communities must adopt in order for their residents to be eligible to purchase NFIP insurance coverage; and (3) map high flood-risk areas that inform local land use decisions as well as the pricing of flood insurance premiums. Theoretically, the NFIP should have deterred development in flood-prone areas, ensured that any new development in the floodplain was designed to minimize the risk of flood damage, and reduced federal expenditures on disaster recovery costs. In practice, the rising debts of the program and growing severity and frequency of flood disasters imply the opposite is true. One significant factor contributing to this shortcoming is that the NFIP is predicated on the assumption that flood risks are static and change little over time. Climate change is proving that assumption to be extremely dangerous and costly. This Comment will assess the current state of the NFIP and the threats to it from climate change. In addition, it explores several strategies to change the NFIP for a changing climate.

Dena Adler is a Fellow and Michael Burger is the Executive Director at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. Rob Moore is a Senior Policy Analyst and Joel Scata is a Water & Climate Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

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