S. 2039, Sen. John Hoeven’s bill to exempt flooded North Dakota properties purchased with federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds from the open space requirements of the Stafford Act, has been pulled from today’s House suspension calendar, following protests from R Street, the National Wildlife Federation, ConservAmerica, the Nature Conservancy and the Association of State Floodplain Managers, as well as other groups.

As we warned earlier today, the bill would have exempted North Dakota properties purchased with HMGP funds from the requirement that they be dedicated to open space, recreational or wetlands management purposes. It would allow properties where, in many cases, temporary levees have been built to construct permanent levees, completely breaking with the spirit of the Stafford Act. Naturally, once these permanent levees are constructed, then other structures built nearby would become elibible for the National Flood Insurance Program. Therefore, passing the bill would not only increase taxpayer exposure on properties where there currently is none, but it simultaneously has potentially big impacts on floodplain management, wildlife habitat preservation and water quality.

Granted, the bill would only affect North Dakota properties. But passing this would open the door for other states that experience major flood losses to request the same, and the precedent would be set that the Stafford Act can be violated at will. That’s really the concern for us. It’s not just the immediate impact of this bill; it’s the potential for communities that host the 37,000 deed-restricted properties across the country to each seek to turn the hazard mitigation grants they’ve already received into, in effect, community development grants.

All of this is why we thought it was so important to get the bill off of the House’s suspension calendar, where it could be passed with no debate and no opportunity for amendments. Thankfully, that’s now happened. The bill has already passed the Senate and the House could (and quite likely, will) return to take it up again. But if it does, at the least, there will at least be an opportunity for an open and robust debate on its merits. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask.

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