Disaster Policy Group Urges Passage Of House Bill

NU Online News Service, Nov. 23, 4:05 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON--A group pushing for natural disaster policy reform said it is urging swift House passage of legislation providing incentives for states to develop pre-mitigation programs for catastrophic weather events.

The measure being pushed by SmarterSafer.org, formerly known as Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy, is the Disaster Response, Recovery and Mitigation Enhancement Act of 2009, H.R. 337.

It was cleared for House action recently by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

According to SmarterSafer.org officials, the proposed legislation improves upon the current mitigation programs in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

One powerful incentive provided by the proposed legislation is to allow states that adopt and enforce statewide building codes to be eligible to receive additional funding from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program HMGP after a disaster occurs.

It also amends the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program to allow states to use PDM funds for building code enforcement programs prior to a disaster.

"These additional programs serve as an impetus for the states to adopt more uniform building codes, as the standards for construction, inspection and enforcement vary greatly across states under the current framework," SmarterSaferorg said.

Officials of the trade group cited a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences, finding that for every dollar spent on mitigation, approximately four dollars are saved in reduced losses.

"With incentives for stronger building codes and investments in pre-disaster mitigation, this legislation offers a good approach to addressing the increased flooding and stronger storms that scientists predict will result from climate change," said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.

"Insofar as the federal government provides disaster relief at all, it's far better that it prefer states that do the right things," said Eli Lehrer, Senior Fellow, the Heartland Institute.

He added, "This proposal is a move in that direction and worth careful consideration. In the long term, however, risk-based insurance rates will provide the best incentives for consumers, governments and businesses around the country."

Brian Marino, president-elect of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, also noted that it "has been an advocate for strong building codes and other mitigation efforts for several years."

Mr. Marino noted, "Our experience shows that communities with strong building codes and enforcement have a much better chance to withstand natural catastrophes than communities with lax, or no standards."

The proposed legislation, he said, "gives communities the tools they need to tailor programs to fit the particular perils affecting them."

The House is off this week for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. It returns to work next Monday.

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