The White House announced Tuesday it would work to revise building standards for flood-prone communities across the country in the face of climate change, while launching new tools to make climate information more accessible to the public.
The move is part of the Biden administration's broader effort to push the United States to reckon with the costs of global warming by factoring in the long-term consequences of decisions being made today.
"As our communities and companies grapple with climate risk, we need to arm them with better climate data — empowering decision-makers across our country and economy with information and insights on how to operate in our 'new normal,' " said Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser, in a statement.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a request for information Tuesday to guide how it would update the National Flood Insurance Program's flood plain management standards, which have not substantially changed since 1976. It is also seeking input on how to better protect the habitats and populations of threatened and endangered species in the face of these risks.
The agency said it will gather public comments "to inform potential revisions that protect households from flood damage, make communities more resilient, and reduce a major source of financial risk to the country," according to the White House.
The program requires communities to adopt these standards, which are intended to reduce flood damage to properties, in order to become eligible for federal flood insurance.
The move comes less than two weeks after the agency raised rates for many homeowners living in flood-prone areas, by factoring climate risk into its policies for the first time. The future impacts could be large; a report from the First Street Foundation released Monday showed that the effects of climate change will place 1.2 million additional residential properties at serious risk of flooding over the next 30 years.
The effort to change the way American cities and towns build in the face of floods comes amid an escalation in damages from these storms, which have grown more intense with rising temperatures.
Since the 1980s, flood- and storm-related disasters have caused $1.7 trillion dollars in damage — with more than a third of the costs occurring in the past five years. Forty years ago, the United States experienced roughly two billion-dollar events annually; in the past decade, it has experienced an average of 10 a year.
The federal flood program has spent more than $69 billion on flood insurance claims since 1973, with half of that paid in the past 12 years.
Hurricane Ida is the most expensive disaster this year, with initial damage estimates at $64.5 billion dollars.