S. 2194, Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021
S. 3069, Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act of 2021
S. 3767, Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2022
S. _, Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022
Testimony of Stephen Guertin
Deputy Director for Policy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior,
Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on
S. 2194, the “Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021”; S. 3069, the “Great Lakes Fish
and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act of 2021”; S. 3767, the “Delaware River Basin
Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2022”; S. _, the “Strengthening Coastal
Communities Act of 2022”
June 15, 2022
Good morning, Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Capito, and Members of the Committee. I am Stephen Guertin, Deputy Director for Policy for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) within the Department of the Interior (Department). I appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today on three bills and one discussion draft bill regarding the conservation and protection of coastal habitats.
From the Chesapeake Bay’s salt marshes to the Great Lakes’ sand dunes to Alaska’s rocky shores, our nation’s coastal habitats play a vital role in sustaining healthy populations of fish, wildlife, and plants. These habitats provide shelter and food to a diverse array of species, including threatened and endangered wildlife like the Rufa red knot and loggerhead sea turtle. They serve as breeding grounds and nurseries for fish and shellfish and are important stopovers for migratory birds. Coastal habitats are equally important for people. They support commercial and recreational fisheries, buffer communities against storms and sea level rise, improve water quality, and provide other valuable ecosystem services.
The Service plays a key role in protecting, conserving, and restoring these important habitats through numerous programs mandated, authorized, and funded by Congress through legislation. We administer the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA), which, through its non-regulatory, free market approach, mitigates coastal hazards associated with climate change by removing federal subsidies and incentives for development along our coasts. This in turn reduces development pressures and conserves fish, wildlife, and their habitats. Our Coastal Program provides technical and financial assistance to partners in coastal areas across the country to advance non-regulatory, voluntary coastal habitat conservation on public and private lands. We also administer several regional programs, such as the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program and Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. These non-regulatory, voluntary programs advance habitat restoration, fish and wildlife conservation, and public access in large coastal landscapes of great local and national significance.
However, given the magnitude of threats facing our coasts, it’s clear that we need to do more. Coastal habitats are threatened by climate change, rising sea levels, and increasingly frequent and intense storms, which can have cascading and cumulative impacts to species and their habitats. Development along our nation’s coasts further compounds these risks by reducing available habitat and making our coasts less resilient in the face of storms. With population growth and urbanization projected to increase along the American coastline, the people, assets, and natural resources exposed to these risks will only increase.
We recognize the importance of amplifying our efforts to address these threats, as well as the need for greater investment in coastal habitat conservation. The bills and discussion draft bill before the Committee today would take steps to address these needs by improving the Service’s administration of CBRA, examining future application of CBRA to high hazard areas not currently included in the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System, codifying and authorizing funding for our Coastal Program, and reauthorizing regional coastal habitat conservation programs in the Delaware River watershed and in the Great Lakes. We support the bills and draft bill and offer the following comments for the Committee’s consideration.
S. 2194, Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2021
S.2194 would codify the Service’s Coastal Program and authorize appropriations for the program that would begin at $20 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 and increase over time to $25 million for FY 2026. The Service supports S. 2194, which would strengthen the Service’s authorities to continue this successful program.
The Coastal Program is one of the Service’s premier voluntary habitat conservation programs. The program provides technical and financial assistance to State and Tribal agencies, coastal communities, conservation organizations, and other federal programs to conserve fish and wildlife habitat on public and private lands.
Coastal Program projects build coastal resilience to the impacts of climate change by improving the health of coastal ecosystems. They support the conservation of federal trust species and have contributed to the recovery and downlisting of 20 listed species. The program also supports natural and nature-based infrastructure by restoring saltmarsh and streams in coastal watersheds, coastal barrier islands, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. These projects provide lasting benefits to coastal communities by employing contractors and stimulating local economies, restoring coastal wetlands that support commercial and recreational fisheries, improving water quality, and increasing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation.
Since 1985, the Coastal Program has collaborated with 6,400 partners to protect 2.1 million acres of habitat and restored nearly 600,000 acres of habitat and over 2,600 stream miles in coastal watersheds. Through these partnerships, the program leverages partner contributions at a ratio of 5:1 or greater, significantly increasing the positive impact and reach of the program.
The Service supports S. 2194, which would codify the Coastal Program’s approach to voluntary, collaborative conservation—a proven and effective strategy to achieve shared conservation goals.
S. 3069, Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Reauthorization Act of 2021
S. 3069 would reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) program. The GLFWRA provides assistance to states, Native American Tribes, and other interested entities to encourage cooperative conservation, restoration, and management of the fish and wildlife resources and their habitats in the Great Lakes Basin.
Since 1998, GLFWRA has provided $32.8 million dollars in federal funding to 193 restoration and regional projects. The Service has worked collaboratively with more than 100 organizations that have contributed nearly $15.1 million in matching non-federal partner support, equating to $47 million worth of benefits to Great Lakes Basin fish and wildlife resources. Additionally, since FY 2010, GLFWRA has received supplemental funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Since the last reauthorization in 2016, the Service has received grant proposals requesting more than $59.6 million in funding.
S. 3069 reauthorizes a partner-led grant program with an excellent track record of success. This success is in large part due to the Proposal Review Committee (PRC), which is responsible for reviewing, scoring, and ranking each project proposal. The PRC is comprised of two representatives of each of the State Directors from the Great Lake states and several Native American communities. The PRC then provides recommendations to the Service’s Midwest Regional Director on which proposals should be funded and implemented.
Some successful projects include developing ecosystem management tools, restoring wetlands, restoring aquatic habitat, and ecological monitoring and modeling. A recent project in Minnesota funded work on the conservation and management of common terns by analyzing thirty years of nesting and banding data from colonies on Lake Superior. Also recently funded is a wetland restoration project in Ohio to restore and enhance 224 acres of wetlands to improve wildlife habitat and hydrologic functioning in the historic Bloomfield Swamp. The swamp was converted to farmland, impacted by agricultural practices, and lost hydrological function caused by creating ditches. Projects like these have contributed important information and actions toward meeting Great Lakes restoration goals.
The Service supports the reauthorization of GLFWRA to continue restoration and management of the fish and wildlife resources and their habitats in the Great Lakes Basin.
S. 3767, Delaware River Basin Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2022
The Service supports S. 3767, which will reauthorize the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) through Fiscal Year (FY) 2030. This legislation would make several changes to the DRBRP’s grant program, including increasing the federal cost share for projects that serve small, rural, or underserved communities. S. 3767 would also authorize the Secretary to waive the non-federal cost share if a grant recipient is unable to pay or would face significant financial hardship in paying the non-federal match. Finally, S. 3767 would repeal a prohibition on the use of program funds for land acquisition.
Following the enactment of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (P.L. 114- 322) in 2016, the Service established the DRBRP to develop a comprehensive and collaborative approach to restore and protect the Delaware River watershed. This voluntary, non-regulatory program brings partners together across the four-state watershed in pursuit of a shared vision: restoring and protecting the watershed’s natural resources for the benefit of wildlife and people. Guided by a partner-developed strategic framework, the DRBRP prioritizes conservation activities in four key areas: restoring fish and wildlife habitat, improving water quality, reducing flooding and runoff, and enhancing recreational opportunities and access for stakeholders.
The DRBRP’s grant program, the Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund (Fund), helps implement these priorities by awarding matching grants to on-the-ground conservation projects. Since 2018, the Fund has awarded nearly $27 million to 123 projects, which have generated $46 million in matching funds. This amounts to a total conservation impact of $73 million.
Recent awards have supported efforts to protect Eastern brook trout habitat through invasive species management in New York; increase cover crops in rural Kent County, Delaware, to improve water quality and habitat for migratory birds; conduct a watershed assessment study and develop a restoration plan to benefit an environmental justice community in Avondale Borough, Pennsylvania; and develop a water trail and recreational programming in urban Camden, New Jersey. These projects have resulted in far-reaching benefits for fish, wildlife, and people. In total, the DRBRP has helped partners restore 100 miles of stream habitat and 500 acres of wetlands and open over 5,000 acres of land and water to new or improved public access.
Building off this history of success, S. 3767 would enable continued progress toward shared conservation goals in the Delaware River watershed. The DRBRP demonstrates the power of collaborative, landscape-scale conservation in tackling 21st century conservation challenges, and we appreciate the bill sponsor and the Committee’s continued support for this important program.
The Service also appreciates this bill’s focus on ensuring equitable access to funding for small, rural, and underserved communities. The non-federal cost share requirement for the DRBRP’s grant program can serve as a barrier to participation for many of the communities that would most benefit from this funding. Watershed partners have already begun prioritizing investments that foster equity and justice, and this bill’s changes to the cost-share requirements would complement and advance that ongoing work.
The Service would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the bill sponsor and the Committee an additional suggested edit to H.R. 6949 regarding P.L. 114-322’s prohibition on the net gain of Federal employees for the administration of the DRBRP.
S. _, Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022
The Department is providing preliminary views on this discussion draft and acknowledges we may have additional comments after we have an opportunity to review an introduced bill. The Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022 would enhance the Coastal Barrier Resources Act’s (CBRA, Act) role in mitigating the coastal hazards associated with climate change, reducing development pressures along our coasts, and conserving fish, wildlife and their habitats. The draft bill would make several amendments to the law to expand its geographic scope, correct past mapping errors, and enhance compliance with and awareness of CBRA. The draft bill would also adopt the Service’s final recommended modernized maps for more than 450 John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) units, including those maps recently revised through the Service’s Hurricane Sandy Remapping Project. Adoption of these maps by Congress would be the single largest action to modernize the CBRS since the law’s enactment 40 years ago. The Service supports the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022 as outlined below, and looks forward to working with the Committee on technical changes to the provisions included in this draft bill and other improvements to the Act.
Overview of the Coastal Barrier Resources System
Undeveloped coastal barriers and their associated aquatic habitat provide a number of benefits to the economy and society. These lands and waters serve as natural storm buffers; provide habitat for countless fish and wildlife species, including many at-risk species; support recreationally and commercially important fisheries; improve water quality; and create recreation and tourism opportunities that help support local economies. Development of these dynamic areas, however, often puts people in harm’s way and can disrupt the natural movement and functions of the barriers, degrading fish and wildlife habitat and increasing shoreline erosion. The impacts of sea level rise and storm surge due to climate change will increase both the risk associated with developing coastal barriers and the value of these areas as cost-effective buffers to protect mainland communities against coastal storm damage.
With the passage of CBRA in 1982, Congress recognized that certain actions and programs of the Federal Government have historically subsidized and encouraged development on coastal barriers, resulting in the loss of natural resources, threats to human life, health, and property, and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year. The purposes of the law are to save taxpayers’ money, keep people out of harm’s way, and remove federal incentives to develop coastal barriers. The law accomplishes these purposes by restricting most new federal expenditures and financial assistance, including federal flood insurance, in areas designated as the CBRS.
The CBRS now encompasses about 3.5 million acres along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico coasts. The Service is responsible for administering CBRA, which includes maintaining and updating the official maps of the CBRS and consulting with federal agencies that propose to spend funds within the CBRS. Congress plays an important role in the implementation of the law by considering and adopting the Service’s recommended maps into law.
CBRA does not prohibit or regulate development; however, it removes the federal incentives to build on these unstable and environmentally sensitive areas. By removing federal incentives for such development, CBRA uses a free-market approach to conserve and maintain these hurricane- prone, biologically-rich coastal barriers. Over its 40-year history, CBRA has been successful in achieving its goals. One recent study evaluating the effectiveness of CBRA in discouraging development on coastal barriers found that the Act has been successful in its intention of decreasing development rates and densities of hazard-prone coastal areas.i Another study on the effects of CBRA on coastal protection infrastructure found that parcels within the CBRS have 78 percent lower odds of being armored with structures such as seawalls.ii CBRA has also been successful in saving taxpayer dollars; reducing coastal disaster expenditures by an estimated $9.5 billion between 1989 and 2013.iii
Maintaining these natural storm buffers will be even more important as the nation prepares for more severe coastal flooding, erosion, and other anticipated effects associated with climate change and sea level rise.
Hurricane Sandy Remapping Project
Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the northeast coast of the United States in October 2012 and caused nearly $75 billion in damages as the fourth costliest storm in U.S. history. Flooding caused widespread damage to structures, critical facilities, and infrastructure in New Jersey and New York, the two states hit hardest by the storm. More than 600,000 housing units were destroyed; public transit systems were extensively damaged with flooding of a rail operations center, tunnels, and the subway system; local docks, marinas, restaurants, and fish processing plants suffered millions of dollars of damage; and many drinking water systems and wastewater treatment plants were affected by power loss and damages. The storm surge and coastal flooding associated with Hurricane Sandy also caused damage to natural resources including the eroding of dunes, beaches, and existing natural infrastructure; the breaching of islands; the washing of sand and sediment inland; and the inundation of wetland habitats. However, the natural resources in Hurricane Sandy’s path endured the effects of the storm better than the built environment and in many areas protected developed areas from more severe damage.
Devastation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy revealed a need to address the vulnerability of populations, infrastructure, and resources at risk throughout more than 31,200 miles of the North Atlantic coastal region. On January 29, 2013, President Obama signed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (Pub. L. 113-2), which provided approximately $50 billion in funding to support rebuilding. Funded through this disaster relief appropriations, the Service undertook a comprehensive effort to modernize the CBRS maps for the nine states along the Mid-Atlantic and New England coasts most affected by Hurricane Sandy: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. This remapping project includes 42 percent of the total existing CBRS units and 16 percent of the total existing acreage of the CBRS. These final recommended maps were transmitted to Congress on April 5, 2022, with the Service’s Report to Congress: John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System Hurricane Sandy Remapping Project.
Map modernization is important to ensuring the durability and long term integrity of the CBRS. The Service and Congress have worked together over the last two decades to make significant improvements in the CBRS maps. The completion of the Hurricane Sandy Remapping Project is a major milestone in that process. Adoption of the revised maps produced through this project will correct decades-old mapping errors affecting more than 900 homes and other structures while at the same time adding hundreds of thousands of acres of qualifying relatively undeveloped areas to the CBRS.
Title I – Coastal Barrier Resources Act amendments
Section 101. Undeveloped coastal barrier
The Service supports Section 101, which revises the definition of an “undeveloped coastal barrier” to remove restrictive language regarding the impact of “man’s activities” on coastal barriers. Section 101 also modifies the definition of a coastal barrier to more explicitly address sea level rise.
Section 102. Coastal hazard pilot project
The Service supports Section 102, which directs the Service to conduct a pilot project to examine application of the free market CBRA approach to certain high hazard coastal areas that are not currently a part of the CBRS. The longer term purpose of this project is to better address coastal hazards that are increasing, such as sea level rise and storm surge. This section directs the Service to consider including within the CBRS, certain vulnerable coastal areas that might not otherwise meet the criteria of CBRA and submit to Congress a subset of draft maps delineating those areas. This pilot project could lead to future Congressional action to comprehensively assess and identify such areas and add them to the CBRS under certain conditions. This could be a key step for the nation to enhance coastal resiliency for the longer term.
Section 103. Require disclosure to prospective buyers that property is in the CBRS
Section 103 requires sellers of real property disclose to buyers when property is within the CBRS and would require the Department to create an online reporting system for such transactions. The Service supports the goal of this provision to increase awareness of CBRA. A CBRS designation can limit the availability of federal flood insurance and other federal subsidies. When prospective buyers are not aware of a property’s inclusion in the CBRS, they are unable to make informed decisions that consider the increased costs of obtaining private flood insurance. Making buyers aware of a CBRS designation is common sense and good government.
However, the Service does not believe that Section 103 as currently written would have the desired effect, as it would require the sellers of real property to first be aware of existing CBRS designations before they could make the required disclosure to the buyer (and subsequently report the disclosure to the Secretary). There are many circumstances in which sellers are sincerely unaware of a CBRS designation affecting their property, particularly in situations where the land is vacant (and thus the seller may have never sought federal flood insurance or other forms of federal financial assistance). Sellers may also be unaware of CBRS designations if they do not have a mortgage or if their home falls outside of the Special Flood Hazard Area. In either of these cases, there is no mandatory purchase of flood insurance requirement and property owners may not be aware that federal flood insurance is unavailable for their home. Additionally, as there is no penalty for non-compliance with Section 103 as proposed, it is not clear what the incentive would be for sellers to make such disclosures or what the recourse would be for buyers who do not receive the required disclosures.
The Service suggests modeling this disclosure requirement after the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, which has been highly effective at increasing awareness of lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of most housing. This type of requirement would not be overly burdensome because it would require that sellers in certain communities affected by CBRA (a list of which is maintained on the Service’s website) provide potential buyers with a pamphlet describing the CBRA restrictions on federal expenditures and financial assistance and providing information regarding how to determine whether a property is within the CBRS so that buyers would be better positioned to conduct their own due diligence. This model would also ensure that this information is provided before the contract is ratified to avoid any surprises at the closing table. If such a provision were enacted and sufficient resources were provided, the Service could conduct outreach to real estate agents and affected communities to facilitate implementation.
Section 104. Improve Federal agency compliance with CBRA
The Service supports Section 104, which requires the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to annually certify to Congress whether federal agencies are in compliance with CBRA. This builds upon an existing requirement that affected agencies certify annually to the Secretary that they are in compliance with the Act. Section 104 also directs affected agencies to update their regulations and guidance, as necessary, to comply with CBRA. Most of the existing regulations related to CBRA were promulgated decades ago and warrant updating to ensure consistency with the law and to clarify agency policies and procedures for implementing CBRA.
Section 105. Excess Federal property
The Service supports Section 105, which expands upon the existing authority for the Secretary to administratively add to the CBRS excess federal property that qualifies as an “undeveloped coastal barrier” to also allow for the inclusion of any excess federal property regardless of the degree of development. This is another common sense and good government provision. The federal government should not be disposing of undeveloped coastal barrier lands without a CBRS designation being considered and easy to apply, when appropriate.
Section 106. Emergency exceptions to limitations on expenditures
The Service supports Section 106, which modifies the emergency exemption to CBRA’s limitations on expenditures to better provide for critical response activities to alleviate an immediate emergency. Section 6 of CBRA provides several exceptions to the law’s limitations on expenditures for federal assistance. These exemptions are divided into two broad categories – those exempted activities and projects that must be consistent with the purposes of CBRA and those that are exempted regardless of consistency.
Currently, the law’s exemption for emergency actions essential to saving lives and protecting property and public health and safety requires that the exempted actions be consistent with the purposes of CBRA. The Service supports removing this requirement as it is not practical for urgent life-saving emergency actions. The Service also agrees that this exception should be limited to expenditures necessary to alleviate the “immediate” emergency, consistent with the original spirit of the exception.
While we support this change, it is critical to be clear about the meaning of the term “immediate emergency.” The types of projects undertaken under this exception should include measures necessary to mitigate catastrophic human health and safety impacts, such as impending damage to a nuclear facility or wastewater treatment plant that is at immediate risk. Likewise, our view is that life-saving measures such as road barricades, search and rescue efforts, urgent repairs to utilities or home heating and cooling systems, and the use of temporary measures after a storm such as blue roofs would be permissible as an “immediate emergency”. It is the Service’s view that this emergency exception should not be used to facilitate federal expenditures for property protection activities that exceed the scope and needs of the immediate emergency. For instance, it should not be used for the purpose of shoring up eroding beaches in front of homes that are predominantly secondary residences where the risk is inherent and increasingly foreseeable given the intensifying effects of climate change along the coast. In short, actions that would not clearly and reasonably be allowable but for an immediate emergency situation should not be undertaken. The Service would be happy to assist the Committee and bill sponsor to ensure that we can work with affected agencies to determine what constitutes an “immediate emergency.”
Section 107. Authorization of appropriations
The Service supports Section 107, which reauthorizes CBRA through 2027 at an increased level. Fulfillment of this section will better position the Service to help plan for and mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition to supporting the implementation of the above provisions, the increased authorization level will allow the Service to increase its capacity to maintain and update the maps, improve public awareness of CBRA, and engage in consultation with other federal agencies.
Additional Opportunity for Enhancement of CBRA
The Service proposes the following additional amendment to CBRA to complement and enhance the efforts contained in the Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022:
Incentivizing federally-funded buyouts to enhance long term coastal resiliency
With the heightened risk of sea level rise and coastal flooding, federally-funded buyouts that remove properties from the development cycle and allow them to return to their natural state are becoming an increasingly important component of federal disaster policy. As coastlines become more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, federal, state, and local governments are offering incentives in certain areas to help keep people and property out of harm’s way. Such efforts can result in a patchwork of acquired properties when some property owners decline buyout offers. Because buyout programs are generally consistent with the purposes of CBRA, the Service recommends amending Section 4 of CBRA to allow the Service to administratively add to the CBRS coastal barrier areas that are offered federally-funded buyouts under existing or potentially future programs and authorities by other agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This authority would build upon CBRA’s free-market approach and allow property owners a choice to be fairly compensated by the federal government for transferring ownership of their property and removing it from the development cycle; or to maintain their homes in high-risk areas, but to do so at their own expense, without future federal financial assistance.
Title II – Changes to John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System maps
The Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2022 would adopt all maps developed through the Hurricane Sandy Remapping Project, as well as final recommended maps that address mapping errors and make technical corrections for certain CBRS units in Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama. Congress’ adoption of final recommended maps produced by the Service will help enhance coastal resiliency and sustainability by improving federal agency compliance with CBRA and by adding other vulnerable coastal areas that qualify as undeveloped coastal barriers to the CBRS. Many of these revised maps also correct mapping errors affecting property owners and provide more accurate and accessible CBRS data for planning coastal infrastructure projects, habitat conservation efforts, and flood risk mitigation measures. The Service supports the adoption of these maps through this draft bill.
We note that 15 of the maps included in Title II were produced in 2015 and 2016. Because coastal barriers are subject to continual geomorphic change and development conditions on the ground are also subject to change, a review of the final recommended boundaries against updated aerial imagery is recommended. The Service stands ready to conduct such a review to ensure that no changes are necessary before these particular maps are adopted into law. Additionally, the Service recommends that the draft bill clarify that the intended effective date on new flood insurance prohibitions for any additions to the CBRS is the date the revised maps are adopted by Congress through legislation. The Service is prepared to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine how to proceed with applying the flood insurance restriction for new construction or substantial improvements or damage in areas added to the CBRS and grandfathering existing structures.
Consistent with the original intent of CBRA, this bill updates the law to more directly address the impacts of climate change, which is needed to ensure that the long term conservation of fish, wildlife, and other nature resources may be achieved. Sea level rise will continue to be a driver of changes in coastal habitat and species distribution and the presence of developed shorelines behind many of these habitats will prevent natural barrier island overwash and migration landward in response to sea level change. CBRA is a tool that can help to ensure that federally- subsidized structures are not constructed in these areas where natural processes are critical to the continued existence of coastal barrier ecosystems and the species that they support.
Since Hurricane Sandy made landfall, numerous hurricanes and other named storms have made landfall along the U.S. coasts, causing loss of life and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure. Rising sea levels will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and expose many more coastal communities to chronic high tide flooding, higher storm surges, and associated emergency response costs over the next few decades. We are seeing evidence of this in events such as the recent collapse of several homes into Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with many other structures poised to follow. These home collapses have littered miles of the beaches and nearshore waters of the national seashore with wooden debris that contain exposed nails, wires, broken and exposed septic systems and other hazardous materials. Such events will continue to occur along our coasts unchecked in the absence of a coordinated local, state, and federal effort to discourage new development in dynamic coastal areas and to consider how to facilitate future retreat from the coastlines in a way that helps save lives and minimizes federal expenditures and environmental contamination.
We appreciate the Committee’s interest in advancing coastal habitat conservation and restoration. Ensuring the long term health of our coasts is vital to the wellbeing of fish, wildlife, plants, and people, and the Service is committed to working collaboratively with partners to conserve these important habitats. Thank for your interest in the Service’s important conservation mission. We look forward to discussing these views and working with you and the sponsors on these and future legislative efforts.
i Kyle Onda et al., “Does removal of federal subsidies discourage urban development? An evaluation of the US Coastal Barrier Resources Act,” PLoS ONE 15, no. 6 (June 2020): e0233888, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0233888.
ii Jordan Branham, Kyle Onda, Nikhil Kaza, Todd K. BenDor, David Salvesen, “How does the removal of federal subsidies affect investment in coastal protection infrastructure?”, Land Use Policy, Volume 102 (March 2021): 105245, ISSN 0264-8377, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2020.105245.
iii Andrew S. Coburn and John C. Whitehead, “An analysis of federal expenditures related to the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) of 1982,” Journal of Coastal Research 35, no. 6 (November 2019): 1358–1361, https://doi.org/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-18-00114.1.