Washington, D.C., July 21, 2023 – The SmarterSafer Coalition submitted a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Deanne Criswell to urge the swift development of regulations updating the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) minimum floodplain management standards to meet the modern-day challenges of flooding exacerbated by
Communities must comply with minimum floodplain standards in order for property owners to qualify for federal flood insurance. However, the NFIP regulations have not been updated since the 1970s. The current NFIP regulations can lead to land management decisions based on outdated data, which may inadequately protect communities and taxpayers from
FEMA initiated a process to adapt the minimum floodplain management standards with its Request for Information in October 2021, but well over a year has passed without new proposed regulations.
“We strongly encourage FEMA to promptly advance a proposed rulemaking that will better protect lives, property, and taxpayer dollars from flood risks and will help promote fiscally responsible investments in future infrastructure development,” SmarterSafer Coalition members wrote in the letter. “As climate change continues to elevate the risk and impacts of flooding borne on communities and taxpayers, FEMA must take quick action to amend NFIP’s implementing regulations to meet our modern-day challenges.”
The full text of the letter is below.
Administrator Deanne Criswell
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C St SW
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Criswell,
SmarterSafer is a national coalition that includes a diverse chorus of voices who champion a united front for environmentally responsible and fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe mitigation and the promotion of public safety. The coalition focuses on several policy areas, including flood and wildfire risk, extreme heat, infrastructure investment, environmental
protection and conservation, and overall responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. We write you today to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to move forward expeditiously with developing regulations to update the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) minimum floodplain management standards.
To qualify for federal flood insurance, communities must comply with these minimum floodplain standards, making them an essential component of our nation’s risk management approach. However, the NFIP regulations have not been updated since the 1970s and do not reflect today’s understanding of flood risk and flood risk reduction approaches. We appreciated FEMA initiating a process to adapt the minimum floodplain management standards with its Request for Information (RFI) in October 2021. However, well over a year has passed, and FEMA has yet to proceed with a proposed rulemaking. We strongly encourage FEMA to
promptly advance a proposed rulemaking that will better protect lives, property, and taxpayer dollars from flood risks and will help promote fiscally responsible investments in future infrastructure development.
As climate change continues to elevate the risk and impacts of flooding borne on communities and taxpayers, FEMA must take quick action to amend NFIP’s implementing regulations to meet our modern-day challenges. (1) The current NFIP regulations can lead to land management decisions based on outdated science, which may adversely impact taxpayers with each passing
disaster. Between 1980 and 2022, the U.S. endured 40 separate flooding events that each cost over $1 billion, with a total cost of over $184 billion. (2) Additionally, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that sea levels are increasing exponentially and will likely rise a foot above year 2000 levels by the end of the century, threatening a continually
growing number of communities, economies, infrastructures, and lives. (3)
The NFIP is a central part of the federal disaster response apparatus, and modernization is critical to ensure that the program better communicates risk to policy-holders and protects both the environment and taxpayer dollars. FEMA itself has identified the urgent need to update NFIP regulations based on the latest science to bring these regulations into the 21st century. (4) In particular, FEMA must address several critical issues, including:
1. Updating the NFIP’s minimum building and land use criteria to require higher elevation standards in the special flood hazard area, incorporating standards to safely site and design critical infrastructure, discouraging the development of natural floodplain buffers, and prohibiting ongoing fill and build practices.
2. Incorporating future climate change impacts, like extreme storms and sea level rise, into flood risk maps to better serve their intended purpose to discourage development in areas vulnerable to flooding today and into the future.
3. Requiring disclosure of past flood damages and ongoing flood risks to home buyers and renters to ensure that residents can make an informed decision about a prospective home and adequately protect themselves from future flood risks.
4. Expanding flood mitigation support and access to buyouts available to NFIP policy-holders through the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, especially for properties subject to repeat flooding.
5. Promoting the protection and restoration of floodplains’ natural and beneficial functions.
FEMA has a critical responsibility to ensure that at-risk communities are well-equipped with updated NFIP regulations to keep pace with the increasing impacts of climate change and to improve flood resilience. SmarterSafer appreciates FEMA’s continued attention to this vital topic and the agency’s thoughtful consideration of the aforementioned suggestions. SmarterSafer stands ready to serve as a resource to FEMA as the agency grapples with the complexities of updating the minimum floodplain management standards. With your dedication and leadership, we will continue to become a more resilient nation.
Please do not hesitate to contact SmarterSafer Executive Director Chris Brown should the coalition or our members be of any assistance in the future.
The SmarterSafer Coalition
Victoria Salinas, Deputy Administrator for Resilience
David Maurstad, Associate Administrator for Resilience
Jeffrey Jackson, Assistant Administrator, Insurance
Eric Letvin, Assistant Administrator, Mitigation
Crystal Bergemann, Director, Climate Resilience, CEQ
1. See The Economic Report of the President, The White House, pg. 280-83 (March 2023)
2. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate
Disasters (2023). https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/billions/, DOI: 10.25921/stkw-7w73
3. See NOAA, Climate Change: Global Sea Level (April 19, 2022), https://www.climate.gov/news-
4. See generally, Natural Resources Defense Council and Association of State Floodplain Managers, Petition
Requesting That The Federal Emergency Agency Amend Its Regulations Implementing the National Flood Insurance
Program (Jan. 5, 2021) (providing a detailed account of FEMA documentation and publications discussing the
benefits of higher building and land-use standards in reducing flood risk).
SmarterSafer.org is a national coalition made up of a diverse chorus of voices united in favor of environmentally responsible, fiscally sound approaches to natural catastrophe policy that promote public safety. SmarterSafer members include taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations, and mitigation advocates.