WASHINGTON (July 17, 2012) — Legislation set to be taken up today by the U.S. House would gut taxpayer protections and key environmental restrictions for flood-damaged properties in North Dakota that were purchased with federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds, the R Street Institute warned.

The bill, S. 2039, would exempt North Dakota properties purchased with HMGP funds from restrictions of the federal Stafford Act, which requires that properties and communities that are relocated out of floodplains using federal funds must be dedicated to open space, recreational or wetlands management purposes. The bill would lift open space deed restrictions in order to allow permanent levees to be built on the properties.

“This measure would undermine the purpose of relocating properties away from flood-prone areas, which is to protect taxpayers from having to pay to rebuild such properties each time there is a flood,” R Street Public Affairs Director R.J. Lehmann said. “Passing this bill would amount to transforming FEMA’s hazard mitigation program into a community development grant.”

While this bill would be limited to North Dakota, it would set a dangerous precedent that could open the door to developing the more than 37,000 deed-restricted properties nationwide, Lehmann added.

Sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the bill passed the U.S. Senate in January 2012 without any hearings or significant floor debate. It has been placed on the House’s suspension calendar, which is meant to be reserved for non-controversial measures. Bills moved under suspension do not go through the Rules Committee process, are not eligible for floor amendments and require a two-thirds majority to pass.

“This bill has serious ramifications not only for taxpayers, but for wetlands protection, wildlife habitat and water quality,” Lehmann said. “It is, frankly, not something that should be rammed through without serious debate.”

R Street is a non-profit public policy research organization that supports free markets; limited, effective government; and responsible environmental stewardship. It has headquarters in Washington, D.C. and branch offices in Tallahassee, Fla.; Austin,Texas; and Columbus, Ohio. Its website is www.redesign.rstreet.org.

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