Stop, rather than subsidize, construction in high-risk zones.
Credit: Mint Images/Frans Lanting

Stop, rather than subsidize, construction in high-risk zones.

The president and Congress should cut federal subsidies that keep the price of insurance in some high-risk zones (flood plains, coastal areas threatened by rising seas, and regions prone to wildfires) artificially – and disastrously – low. "If we had never created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the private market would be charging much higher premiums and it would be much more of a deterrent for people living in these places," says Eileen Fretz, director of flood management at the non-profit, American Rivers. While we're not likely to completely end government-backed insurance, last June Congress passed legislation that cut NFIP funding for businesses, second homes, and repeat beneficiaries (that is, homes that flooded multiple times). This is a good start, but we need to do more: stop giving taxpayer protection, and indirectly encouraging development, to communities behind levees. We also need to actively protect our most valuable flood protection infrastructure – wetlands, barrier islands, and dune beaches. Similar opportunities lie in the nation's wildfire "red zones," where the government is spending $3 billion a year on wildfire protection. "We ain't seen nothing yet," says Ray Rasker, an economist and director of Headwaters Economics. Only 16 percent of private wildland now has homes, he says. "Put climate change on top of new development, and you have a crisis." He suggests cutting support for construction of at-risk homes, doing away with breaks like the federal mortgage tax deduction.