Living in a flood zone? Check your insurance. It may be about to go up. (+video)
"This is a very significant moment in our national Zeitgeist in terms of people starting to recognize that climate risks are affecting every part of our life, including our economic choices, where we live, where we do business," says Rachel Cleetus, a senior economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists' Climate and Energy Program.
The National Flood Insurance Program currently has 5.6 million policies on its books covering properties collectively worth more then $1.2 trillion, noted FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, during a mid-September Senate hearing on implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
Of those 5.6 million policies, about 20 percent have been subsidized.
And while about 1.3 percent of the subsidized policies cover property that has experienced repeated bouts of flood damage, those properties have accounted for some 25 percent of the flood-insurance program's payouts since 1978, Dr. Cleetus says.
Subsidies for flood insurance long have been the bane of scientists and policy analysts who work on reducing risks to natural hazards. Over the years, they say, the subsidies on flood insurance have encouraged development in locations subject to repeated floods and storm surge.
But the Senate hearing on the issue earlier this month was driven in no small part by a rising chorus of complaints from constituents who say the premium increases have caught them by surprise. In addition, concerns have been raised about the ability of low-income residents to pay higher premiums.
Indeed, one scientist who has argued for flood-insurance reform nevertheless says that the current reforms offer "too much tough love and too little compassion for flood-prone homeowners."
In an opinion piece he published in The New York Times in late August, Nicholas Pinter, a geology professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, conceded that "policy reform and fiscal discipline sound great until you sit across the table from flood-plain residents losing their homes because of skyrocketing insurance premiums."