Congressman discusses flood insurance, coastal issues

Via Houma Today

By Andrea Mujica and Keith Magill The Courier and Daily Comet

Congressman Garret Graves expressed concern Tuesday about a House-passed flood-insurance reform proposal he says could result in unaffordable cost increases for Louisiana homeowners.

It was among a range of issues Graves, R-Baton Rouge, covered during a speech to business and political officials at the Cypress Columns meeting hall in Gray. The luncheon was sponsored by the Houma-Terrebonne, Lafourche and Thibodaux chambers of commerce.

Graves, whose district includes northern Terrebonne and Lafourche, expressed optimism that the Senate will make changes to the flood insurance proposal before it reaches a final vote. The flood insurance program had been set to expire last Friday, but Congress extended it through July 31 as part of a spending bill passed Thursday.

Graves said he is working with Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy to ensure the final bill retains affordable prices.

“We’re working with them on bringing better policy to the table to help reflect the conditions in Louisiana,” Graves said. “Because the House-passed bill would limit your flood insurance rates to $10,000 a year when adjusted for inflation. That’s the cap you have. How many of you can afford that? Ten thousand dollars a year. It begins transitioning us to those types of rates. Completely unacceptable. It would undermine the economy in the region.”

Graves said the federal government helped cause Louisiana’s coastal erosion problems by building levees to control flooding along the Mississippi River, cutting off sediment and fresh water than once nourished the area’s wetlands. The resulting erosion has made communities like Terrebonne and Lafourche more vulnerable to storms.

“So the federal government makes us more vulnerable and then they charge us more money for what they did — that’s not OK,” Graves said.

“The best thing to do for the flood insurance program is to build levees and restore the coast, eliminate people’s vulnerability or at least significantly reduce it,” he said. “And so our efforts are connecting the efforts to build levees and the the flood insurance program to make sure that these communities are resilient and and that we’re not having to address vulnerabilities by using unaffordable flood insurance premiums.”

On other issues:

Excessive permits and regulation: Graves said the Trump administration is making progress in reducing some of the excessive regulations that have slowed public projects such as road and levee construction. Graves, a longtime critic of the Army Corps of Engineers, called for more reforms to the permitting process he contends unnecessarily slows flood protection and coastal restoration work in Louisiana.

Graves noted that the corps has spent $80 million on studies for the Morganza levee project that protects Terrebonne and parts of Lafourche from Gulf of Mexico storms, but the agency hasn’t turned any dirt itself — that work is being done by the local levee board.

“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “And so we’re working on legislation to fix that.”

He also said levee building and coastal work should be removed from the Department of Defense and put under an agency under which such projects are part of its core mission, such as the Interior or Transportation department.

Citing progress: Graves cited statistics he says shows evidence that Congress and the president have made progress on some issues. Among them, he said, there have been almost 2.5 million new jobs created in the U.S. in the past 14 months, including 313,000 last month alone.

“Almost 1.7 million people in the last year transitioned from welfare programs into the workforce,” Graves said. “We’re seeing all sorts of changes happening in our economy happening. Six million workers have received higher wagers or bonuses in the last three months.”

He said the tax bill passed by Congress and pushed by Trump has helped spark some of those jobs and investment by business.

Coastal money secured: President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget retains the most significant source of federal money to help restore the coast.

Under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which Congress passed in 2006, Louisiana will receive 37.5 percent of federal oil revenue from drilling off its coasts, capped at $500 million a year, beginning this year.

Trump’s 2018 budget sought to eliminate the revenue-sharing, sending the money to the federal treasury rather than Louisiana and other Gulf states until lawmakers helped persuade him to scrap the plan. A similar provision was included the Obama administration’s proposed budgets for the past two years but was rejected by Congress.

“People in this room helped us get together with people from Washington, including the president’s cabinet, and bringing them down here and showing them our coast and showing them our communities, helping them understand the importance of this region, not just to Louisiana but to the nation,” he said. “We had the president’s budget come out where they did not propose to cut the program, and now we’re actually working with the administration to increase the funds for the program because they now understand the importance of this region.”

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