After the flood, hope for bipartisan action

Baton Rouge flood 2016

Aerial view shows flooding and devastation in Baton Rouge, La., in August of 2016 following record rainfall.

After the flood, hope for bipartisan action

By Dennis Arp

In case you forgot during this contentious election cycle, here’s a happy reminder: consensus-building is possible in Congress. We see people reach across the aisle all the time on issues of environment that affect everyone, and here’s the latest example. California Republican Congressman Ed Royce has joined with Democrat Earl Blumenauer to co-sponsor legislation addressing the costly problem of frequent flooding in the U.S. The bipartisan bill would require flood-prone areas to prepare plans for reducing their risk.

Although the bill doesn’t mention climate change by name, it’s clearly a response to the growing frequency and intensity of storms, as well as the increasing threat from sea level rise. Over just the past few months, we’ve seen severe flooding in Louisiana and regional devastation from Hurricane Matthew. And no reminder is needed of Sandy’s destruction in New York. This report from Climate Central explains, “The potential for stronger storms and rising seas mean Sandy-level flooding could could occur once every 23 years as opposed to once every 400.”

In the face of events like that, we need a workable National Flood Insurance Program and prudent legislation that prioritizes readiness. Homes and other properties that flood regularly have cost the federal government more than $12 billion since 1978, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2014 alone, flooding killed 38 people and caused damage with a price tag approaching $3 billion. “One NFIP-insured home valued at $69,000 flooded 34 times in 32 years and racked up $663,000 in claims; it’s time to stop the madness for policyholders and taxpayers who subsidize this cycle,” said Rep. Royce.

It’s classically conservative to create policy that safeguards resources, reduces risk and limits future expenditures. With this bill, Rep. Royce is taking a measured, levelheaded approach to the problem that includes searching for opportunities to work with political rivals.

He brings the same attitude to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which he chairs. His committee previously has considered the effects of drought and other environmental issues as stresses in volatile regions such as Africa and the Middle East. Whether it’s abroad or at home, Rep. Royce clearly cares about solving problems that threaten lives and heighten security risks.

I have two college-age sons, so I’m eager for Congress to work together to craft policy that attacks the roots of climate change—the greatest existential threat of our time. But I also recognize the realities of the recent political climate, so I appreciate Rep. Royce working to find a common purpose across party lines.

“It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Rep. Royce said. “Yet when it comes to the NFIP and properties that flood repeatedly, that’s what we do.” Well thanks to him, we’re trying something new: working together. May he and Rep. Blumenauer be a bipartisan example that leads us to the higher ground of climate preparation and solutions.

Dennis Arp has been a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby for four years, leading the North Orange County – Southeast L.A. County group in California. He’s also a senior editor at Chapman University.