Environmentalists should want to update the law because it protects sensitive habitats. Fiscal conservatives should support the modernization because the law eliminates wasteful federal spending and subsidies. Yet nobody in Congress has introduced the necessary legislation to make that happen.
Something is clearly wrong with this picture.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan and Congress enacted the Coastal Barrier Resources Act to protect coastal barrier habitats. The law recognized that the federal government historically subsidized development along that coast, which damaged the natural environment and left taxpayers exposed to significant property losses.
The CBRA removed the incentive to develop in risky coastal areas by designating relatively undeveloped coastal areas on the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as part of the Coastal Barrier Resources System.
Areas within the CBRS aren’t eligible for most federal expenditures and financial assistance, most notably the National Flood Insurance Program.
The law is literally a set of maps that eliminate imprudent federal spending and discourage risky development. It isn’t a development prohibition. Private developers remain able to build and improve property. The only catch is that they’re responsible for handling the risk, not the federal taxpayer.
Because coastal areas are in a constant state of change, CBRS maps need to be updated at regular intervals. The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the most recent update with all the advantages of modern technology in November 2016. The latest map update adds a little more than 24,000 acres to the CBRS, but it contains a net removal of 290 structures.
In order for those maps to take effect, Congress must pass legislation to adopt them.
It’s certainly possible for Congress to play crony politics with CBRA maps, but comparing the Fish and Wildlife Service maps to any modified version would quickly shine a light on any funny business.
A CBRA map update won’t make the cable news headlines, but it’s the kind of legislation that Democrats and Republicans should both support. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the taxpayer. The only people who will oppose it want taxpayers to be on the hook for perilous coastal development.
Updating CBRA doesn’t require a big bruising public policy battle; it just needs a few congressional champions able to recognize a good idea when they see it.
Image by Haider Y. Abdulla