Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR., and witnesses from Oregon and Florida criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the effect its policy has had on local economies.
The congressman said the agency is using other aspects of environmental law to extend its authority beyond what has been granted by Congress.
“Nothing in the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] grants FEMA power over land use. This is a voluntary insurance program on the verge of becoming a federal tool for tight control over land,” DeFazio said.
Under the National Flood Insurance Program that began in 1968, FEMA has the authority to require enrolled communities to adopt their recommendations to receive insurance from the federal government.
After lawsuits in the last decade that accused the agency of not adhering to the Endangered Species Act, FEMA developed a process in the 00’s that would require flood-prone areas to prove proposed development posed no threat to at-risk species.
Oregon Home Builders Association Chief Jon Chandler said that this policy is not proper.
“It is inappropriate to use the NFIP to protect endangered species. This will hurt jobs and working families,” Chandler said.
The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure any action carried out by an agency will not cause the destruction of a threatened species or that species’ habitat.
Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said she is open to working with the federal government to preserve the environment, but not at all times.
“Our environment is our economy; we seek to work with government partners to preserve it. But only where it makes sense. We need to let folks with the tools to do the job well do so, everyone else should get out of the way,” Carruthers said.
Oregon Floodplain Specialist Chris Shirley suggested that her state should be open to regulatory changes, but argued that they should be added into those already in place.
“Changes brought about must not be overlaid on top of an existing system, but woven into it. We’re having to fit their policy into our local programs,” Shirley said.
Communities in the National Flood Insurance Program can withdraw if they wish to avoid FEMA policy, but dropping out can result in homeowners defaulting when not able to afford private insurance.
“If a city opted to leave, FEMA, ESA and NFIP policy would not apply to them,” said FEMA Assistant Mitigation Administrator Michael Grimm.
Rep. DeFazio concluded his remarks by expressing surprise that this is happening.
“I find this extraordinary that one federal agency can bully and overrule others with no public involvement,” DeFazio said.