Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology considered H.R. 3479, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011 to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP).
"This Committee has an important role to play in helping Americans prepare for and recover from tornadoes and other natural disasters by facilitating the disaster resiliency of communities," Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her opening statement. "By reauthorizing the earthquake and windstorm reduction programs, we can minimize the number of Americans who are harmed or killed by natural disasters or who have to face the challenge of putting their homes, businesses, and communities back together."
Although Democratic Members recognized the importance of reauthorizing these programs and expressed support for some of the provisions included in the bill to make the programs more efficient and effective, they were uniformly concerned about the drastic funding cuts proposed in the bill. The bill reduces the authorization level for NEHRP by 36 percent and NWIRP by 14 percent compared to the last year in which the programs were authorized. The bill further constrains both programs by providing flat authorizations that are 6 percent below current spending levels.
"While some may claim that our budgetary situation has changed, the truth is that the need to improve the disaster resiliency of our communities has not. We don't have any reason to believe that these agencies need any less money to carry out these responsibilities than we determined was necessary the last time we reauthorized these programs," Ms. Johnson said. "Without a corresponding reduction in responsibilities, we are doing nothing less than setting these agencies up to fail. This is especially true this year, when disasters have caused over $45 billion in economic damage and cost hundreds of lives across this country."
Several Democratic Members of the Committee offered amendments during today's markup.
Highlighting studies pointing to the fact that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to emergency management does not work for some vulnerable populations, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) offered an amendment requiring public education and outreach to address the needs of individuals with special needs. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
The Committee also approved by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Ben Ray Luján authorizing the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to conduct research into fires at the wildland-urban interface.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced an amendment to increase the funding authorizations in the bill to the levels included in the last authorization of the programs. "My amendment would put in place the same numbers included by the Republican Majority when the earthquake and windstorm programs were last authorized in 2004," said Rep. Woolsey. "By doing so, I firmly believe we can help keep spending under control, but also ensure that these agencies have the funding they need to effectively carry out the responsibilities we have given them." The amendment was rejected along party lines.
The Committee also considered an amendment offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to transfer responsibility for post-earthquake investigations from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to NIST, as recommended by the NEHRP Advisory Committee, and increase funding for NIST to accommodate the new responsibility. She noted that the bipartisan House bill from last Congress, the bill currently making its way through the Senate, and the Committee Print considered by the Technology & Innovation Subcommittee last month also authorized this transfer of responsibility. The amendment was rejected along party lines.
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced an amendment to increase funding authorizations in the bill to the levels included in the bipartisan House bill from last Congress and the bill reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on a bipartisan basis earlier this year. "I am very concerned about lowering the authorization levels for these agencies, especially at the close of a year in which this country has experienced a historic number of disasters," said Rep. Edwards. "I cannot in good conscious support a cut to the authorization levels for these programs." The amendment was also rejected along party lines.
Ranking Member Johnson concluded her comments by saying, "We simply can't afford to have these agencies miss further opportunities to implement low-cost mitigation measures. Studies have shown that for every dollar we invest in mitigation activities through FEMA's pre-disaster mitigation program, we save $3 to $4 in recovery costs. In the end, strong and effective hazard reduction programs will not only save lives and property, but also provide us with meaningful cost savings."
H.R. 3479 passed the Committee by a party-line recorded vote and was reported favorably out of Committee.