Why Expanding the Coastal Barrier Resources System Makes Sense

September 19, 2013

If the fight is between taxpayer protection and proactive government spending on conservation, today's budget realities clearly favor those fighting for taxpayer protections. But the reality is that conservation doesn't have to come down to that simple binary choice. In many ways, current government policy incentivizes behavior that both harms the environment and wastes taxpayer dollars, says Lori Sanders, outreach manager and policy analyst at the R Street Institute.

Congress did just this in 1982, when it passed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). With the CBRA, Congress created the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS), an area where the federal government no longer would subsidize development or offer other support, such as federal flood insurance.

  • By prohibiting subsidies and cutting off access to the Nation­al Flood Insurance Program, it has been estimated that CBRA has saved almost $1.3 billion since its enactment.
  • It's impor­tant to note that a CBRS designation doesn't prohibit an area from being developed. Rather, the decision to develop is left to individuals and firms. State and local governments can choose to build or subsidize development within the zone.
  • Additionally, existing development in the CBRS was grand­fathered in, allowing property owners to continue receiving subsidies so long as the building has not been significantly improved or damaged since the designation.

CBRS maps are both outdated and difficult to use. CBRS maps should be digitized to ease the process for determining whether a property is in a CBRS zone.

  • Map updates will go a long way toward improving outcomes in CBRA zones, but given the current process, which requires congressional approval for most CBRA changes, updates will continue to face unnecessary delays due to competing prior­ities and partisan gridlock in Congress.
  • While large changes -- such as the addition of new zones or changes that stand to have large economic impacts on local communities -- should require additional scrutiny.

Expanding the CBRS can be a commonsense way for Congress to improve outcomes for taxpayers and the environment, as it would in no way prohibit private development or even state and local subsidies from reaching the area.

Source: Lori Sanders, "Opportunities for the Expansion of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982," R Street Institute, September 2013.

 

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