Dream homes and disasters: Is the government ready to confront climate risk?
Billions of new taxpayer dollars are aimed at helping victims of extreme weather leave their vulnerable homes. But without a lot of teeth, the federal programs may just perpetuate the problem.
For decades, lawmakers and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., have resisted taking harsh action to pull federal insurance funding from especially vulnerable areas, even as climate change made a mockery of 100-year projections of the type that Graham counted on. Now, in the wake of disasters including the deadly Kentucky floods and Hurricane Ian, official Washington is openly wrestling with what to do about the hundreds of thousands of people who are living in areas that climate change is making too risky to inhabit.
It’s a question with implications far beyond those whose homes are endangered. If large numbers of communities are rendered undesirable because of their climate, local and regional real estate markets could tank. Expensive public infrastructure like water treatment systems and roads could be abandoned or become obsolete as people relocate. Heavy taxpayer spending is likely. Yet many experts say that proactively steering people away from places climate change is making nonviable will seem a bargain compared with the costs of rebuilding in the shadow of past and future disasters, floods and droughts.
But Washington is taking a cautious approach. It’s a tricky business, prodding people to leave places where they’ve lived for decades, in some cases raising families and watching relatives grow old and die. And for now, Congress is trying to use carrots rather than sticks. Lawmakers recently put “unprecedented” funding — $3.5 billion — behind efforts to move people out of harm’s way, said David Maurstad, who is FEMA’s deputy associate administrator of resilience, while federal officials have begun nudging people away from such vulnerable areas as coastal Washington state, the Mississippi River Delta in Missouri and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.
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