Congress appears highly unlikely to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program despite promises early this year that lawmakers would approve major changes to make premiums more affordable and improve the maps that define the nation's flood zones.

NFIP is scheduled to expire May 31, which will force Congress to renew the program unchanged for the 11th time in two years. If Congress does not act, the program will expire, preventing policyholders from renewing their insurance policies and blocking others from buying new policies.

"I haven't seen anything or heard anything" about reform legislation, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said in an interview yesterday. "Chances are we're going to come up with another short-term extension." Palazzo, whose district encompasses the flood-prone Mississippi coast, has led efforts to overhaul NFIP.

Peter Gaynor, the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told lawmakers at a hearing yesterday that he would like Congress to renew NFIP for a year so the agency can work with them to enact an overhaul that makes insurance more affordable. FEMA runs NFIP, the nation's primary flood insurer, which covers 5.1 million properties located primarily in flood-prone coastal areas.

"It needs to be overhauled. It hasn't had a significant overhaul since the 1970s," Gaynor said. "It needs to be more affordable, more transparent, and it needs to better reflect [flood] risk."

Congress has made several attempts to overhaul NFIP in the past two years, but those failed as lawmakers could not reconcile their differing priorities. Since October 2017, Congress has passed 10 bills that renewed NFIP for a short period — usually a few months — without changes. The most recent legislation, approved in late December, reauthorized the program through May 31.

The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing March 13 on reforming the insurance program but has taken no public action since. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the committee chairwoman, released four proposed bills for discussion, but none has been introduced as legislation. Waters' staff did not immediately return an email yesterday seeking comment (Climatewire, March 14).

"It's definitely frustrating for those of us who represent so many people" with NFIP policies, Palazzo said of the inaction. Lawmakers "get distracted by other shiny objects."

The most immediate challenge will be for Congress to reauthorize NFIP before it expires. Letting the program lapse would interfere with home sales in areas where homeowners are required to have flood insurance.

"I'm always fearful we may not do our job," Palazzo said when asked if Congress would renew NFIP.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.