FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION SAFETY AND INNOVATION ACTMOTION TO PROCEEDContinued


Mark PryorU.S. Senator
[D] Arkansas, United States

Length: 16 minutes, 14 seconds


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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, today I rise to discuss the National Flood Insurance Program, which is a program we are now trying to reauthorize in the Senate. Senators JOHNSON and SHELBY have shepherded this bill through the Banking Committee. I have a ton of respect for both of those Senators and the work of the Banking Committee because they worked very hard to get it to the floor, to get it ready. In fact, it expires on May 31. If for some reason we cannot work out something here in the next couple of days, I sincerely hope we will extend this on at least a short-term basis--for another, say, 30 days--to give us time to work this out. The National Flood Insurance Program is too important to mortgages and commercial real estate, et cetera, to let it lapse. If we cannot work it out, I hope we can get a 30-day extension. I support that effort.

We need to reauthorize this legislation, this program, but we need to do it in the right way. Several Senators over the course of the last few months have stated objections to S. 1940. Here are mine. I have listed some of mine in a letter we sent to the chairman and ranking member last month or so--November 15, 2011. We listed several objections and concerns we had with the bill. There were 13 Senators from 9 States who signed this letter going to Senators Johnson and Shelby.

Again, we appreciate their efforts, but we have to do this the right way.

Let me run through three or four or five of my concerns about this legislation and tell my colleagues why I cannot support it in its current form and why I do support an extension but why, in the end, if the bill stays the way it is now, I cannot support it. I hope many of my colleagues will join me in the effort of not supporting this legislation as it is currently drafted.

Let me start with the bill itself, S. 1940. The primary objection I have is in section 107 of the legislation. It is titled ``Mandatory Coverage Areas.'' Basically what it does is it redefines ``special flood hazard areas.'' This may not sound very exciting or very fun to people, but this is critically important.

I am showing a map here on the floor today. All of these counties in the dark green--there are 881 counties total that have levees in their counties. To my understanding, well over 50 percent of the U.S. population lives somewhere near a levee. They may not realize it because the levees work and they don't have floods, but if you see this map, you can see the levees all over the country. If you are a Senator representing one of those States, I strongly encourage you and your staff to look at section 107 of the legislation.

Here is part of it, 107(b): Residual Risk Areas--The regulations required by subsection (a) shall require the expansion of areas of special flood hazards to include areas of residual risk that are located behind levees or near dams or other flood control structures, as determined by the Administrator.

Subsection (c) says: Mandatory Participation in National Flood Insurance Program-- (c)(1) In General--Any area described in subsection (b) [the one I just read] shall be subject to the mandatory purchase requirements. .....

Then go down to (c)(3): In carrying out the mandatory purchase requirement under paragraph (1), the Administrator shall ensure that the price of flood insurance policies in areas of residual risk accurately reflects the level of flood protection provided by any levee, dam, or other flood control structure in such area, regardless of the certification status of the flood control structure.

So regardless of whether these levees and dams are certified--in many cases by the Corps of Engineers, in other cases by private engineering firms--regardless of whether they are certified, the people behind those levees are going to be required to purchase flood insurance.

Let me read that one more time: The regulations required by subsection (a) shall require [there is no wiggle room there] the expansion of areas of special flood hazards to include [these] areas. .....

This is a great expansion of this program. I want to talk about the expansion in just a moment, but let me say that the folks in these areas--I know it is certainly true in my State of Arkansas--the people in these areas currently pay for flood protection. In most cases, what they do is, through some sort of local levy or local tax--it is different in different places, but somehow, someway, they pay to build and maintain these levees. They are paying out of their pockets right now to make sure they do not get flooded. What this bill does and what FEMA would do under this bill--they would be required to do it, wouldn't have any wiggle room--what they would be required to do is make them pay again; not only have to pay for their own levee, they have to pay for flood insurance for floods that will never happen in their [Page: S3407] areas because these levees are certified. Again, this is 881 counties, 50 percent of the U.S. population.

Over half the counties in Arkansas have levees. There are over 1,200 dams in our State. I don't have the number of dams for everybody all over the country, but it is over 1,200 in my State, so you can multiply that over how many dams you might think there are in the United States. It is a huge number, and it will affect over half the people in the United States.

I mentioned that these folks are already paying for their own flood protection through local levies. Now, also, according to this law, they are going to have to pay for insurance. In addition to that, to rub salt in the wounds, what they are going to have to do is their local counties are going to have to pass an ordinance that FEMA has written and it is going to restrict the land use. In many cases, that ordinance will diminish the property values, diminish the ability for them to do economic development in their communities.

If we can just take one example of something that happened last year, last year we had terrible flooding in the midsection of the country. Many of you remember that. The Corps of Engineers ended up having to blow the levee at Bird's Point. That is part of the Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River and tributary system.

By the way, we have to thank the Corps of Engineers and praise them for the engineering they have done on the river. I know there have been a few problems over the years. Some obviously happened in Katrina. But overall the Corps of Engineers designed things that work. Certainly when you look at last year, the 2011 flood of last year, in the Mississippi River, one of the longest rivers in the world, certainly the longest in North America, there was more water that flowed through the gauging stations from Cairo, IL, to Natchez, MS, than in any flood in recorded history. The flow at Cairo, IL--the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio--was over 2 million cubic feet per second. That was running through the Mississippi River right there. At Helena, AR, it was running at 2.3 million cubic feet per second.

In some locations--the Corps of Engineers is in the process of determining this; they are not ready to say it yet--in some locations up and down the Mississippi River system, they are considering whether this actually was not a 100-year flood or 250-year flood, this was actually a 500-year flood, the largest flood in history.

All of this Mississippi River--MR&T, we call it, Mississippi River and tributary system--all that has cost our taxpayers $32 billion since its inception, but just in the flood last year, it saved taxpayers $110 billion in damages. That is a great return on investment. We need to honor that return on investment. We need to not charge people additional flood insurance for areas that do not flood. They maybe had the 500-year flood up and down the Mississippi or maybe in certain parts of it, and there was not 1 acre of ground that went underwater. It was a new flood of record. Ten million acres of land were protected, 1 million structures were protected, and, again, it prevented $110 billion of property damage. There were no lives lost, and not 1 acre was flooded. The system worked exactly according to plan.

Now this bill comes in and says: Well, even though we just had the 250-year or the 500-year flood, still we want to make all these people up and down the Mississippi in all these counties--not all the people but in certain parts of these counties, depending on what the flood maps say--we want to require them to pay for flood insurance when it is never going to flood there.

I want my colleagues to know that this provision, section 107 in the Senate bill, is not in the House bill. I think the reason it is not--I can't speak for the House, of course, but I think the reason it is not is for the reasons I am saying right here.

We know it is not going to flood in these areas. This is the Corps of Engineers. This is the best levee system in the world, and it is keeping these folks safe and dry when the floods come.

Also, I wanted to say the House does not have section 107 in their bill. It never did. There is a House amendment offered by Congressman Cardoza who took out a requirement to show these areas are on their maps, and that vote passed 261 to 163. So not only can we get consistent with the House because we can get rid of section 107, but we can also get rid of other specific parts of this legislation that will be more consistent with the House.

Here is a map of the Mississippi River, the area I am talking about. We can see the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and a little bit of Kentucky and Illinois is in there as well. But this large blue area is what they call the historic floodplain. Before man came, before people started building levees, before they started draining swamps and trying to manage the land, this is the area that would flood.

One thing important to know about this is that a lot of this area in light blue has some of the richest farmland in the world. The reason it is so rich is that for centuries or eons or however long it was, this river would flood periodically and put this very rich soil out there. That is one reason why in this part of the country they can grow almost anything. That soil is great.

This is a huge industry for the area, and it is important we keep it going. It is also critically important for U.S. trade and the U.S. economy. This is the breadbasket, so to speak, of the United States right here. We have that area growing food and fiber for everyone. It is critical we keep that going.

Once the Corps of Engineers gets control of the Mississippi River--this is what it looks like now when it floods. This is now the floodplain. If you go back to last year when it flooded so badly, this is what it looked like, with one exception; they blew out this one little area in Birds Point to give a little bit of relief. Again, that was by design and that worked.

The first problem I have with the bill is section 107. Another problem is the general expansion of what this bill does to the National Flood Insurance Program. One of the things buried in the bill that a lot of people may not see is in section 118. Section 118 talks about how the Administrator needs to establish an ongoing program under which they review and update and maintain National Flood Insurance Program rate maps in accordance with this section, et cetera, et cetera. Then they go down their criteria of what they need to look at.

It says here ``all populated areas and areas of possible population growth located not within''--not the 100-year floodplain. The current law is the 100-year floodplain. What this plan says is the 500-year floodplain. We don't have a map of that because the Corps of Engineers has not finished mapping and FEMA has not accepted all the maps yet. We don't know exactly what that is going to look like, but I am going to say it is going to look something like this here. It is a good bet that a lot of people in this light blue area are going to have flood insurance.

Based on the flood we had last year, they are never going to get flooded, not in 100 years, and certainly not in 500 years. They are not going to get flooded, but this says they must purchase flood insurance. This is a huge expansion of the program. It has a big impact not just on homeowners, which is obviously very important. They are not going to be able to get a mortgage if they are in a floodplain.

What this law says in the committee report is that notice will be provided to property owners in the 500-year floodplain to inform them of their flood risks, which may lead to more owners protecting their property through flood insurance.

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