Both chambers of Congress today passed legislation written by U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman that would allow New Mexicans affected by wildfire on federal lands to more quickly take advantage of flood insurance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill can now be sent to the president for signature.
Senator Tom Udall was a cosponsor of the bill in the Senate. Representatives Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján and Steve Pearce introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.
Wildfires often increase the risk of flooding because the heat of the fire makes ground impermeable to water, which significantly increases runoff after a rainfall.
Under current law, however, there is a 30-day waiting period after flood insurance is purchased before coverage under a new contract can take effect; this is to prevent individuals from waiting until the last minute to purchase insurance in areas where the threat of flooding is high. The Bingaman bill waives that 30-day period in instances where wildfire on federal landscreates or exacerbates a new flooding problem in areas where that flooding would otherwise not be considered a significant threat.
"The fire season in New Mexico has been nothing short of devastating. With the coming of the monsoon season, our state is at a greater risk for flooding. This bill, which is on its way to becoming law, will allow New Mexicans affected by wildfires to more quickly access flood insurance," Bingaman said.
"The Southwest is experiencing a record breaking wildfire season, creating dangerous flooding potential where there once was none," said Udall. "With the monsoon season set to begin as early as next week, waiving the 30-day waiting period for new flood insurance policies in these areas could not be more timely or necessary. I applaud the Senate's approval of this provision in the flood insurance bill," Udall said.
"As wildfires can rapidly change watershed conditions and put homeowners in flood hazard areas that previously didn't exist we had to act to protect New Mexico families," Heinrich said. "I am proud to have worked with my New Mexico colleagues to ensure New Mexicans receive the protection they need in the event of such a tragedy."
"The passage of this important provision will result in commonsense changes to the NFIP system that benefit New Mexico homeowners during this devastating fire season," Luján said. "With many communities vulnerable to flooding in the aftermath of fires across the state, this legislation will enable homeowners to get the flood protection they need and prevent a delay they can't afford with monsoon season on the horizon."
"I'm very glad to see that the language of HR 6017 will be included in the final version of the Surface Transportation Extension Act. Removing the 30-day waiting period for those who live in areas recently devastated by wildfires gives them a sense of security that their homes and livelihoods will be protected when the inevitable monsoon floods come later this summer. The people of New Mexico and the West in general know this situation all too well. This measure will ensure that they have a shot at protecting themselves from future disasters. The work we did with Senator Bingaman's staff in such a short period of time sets an example of what we can do for New Mexico when Members of Congress put aside their party difference, and decide to work in their constituents' interests. I look forward to finding other bipartisan solutions to the issues facing our country," Pearce said.
The bill was made part of a larger package that reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program and contained funding for transportation.