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Kansas vs. Florida

Should Midwesterners pay for the damages which Florida coast-dwellers suffer from rising seas and more powerful storms? A friend in southern California once told me “Everybody wants to be near that water (the Pacific Ocean).” That may be true, but why shouldn’t beach people bear the full costs of living near the ocean?

For decades, the federal government has subsidized beach living through the National Flood Insurance Program, where the premiums homeowners pay cover less than half the true risks. Federal monies also go for practices such as “beach nourishment” – replacing sand near beach properties that storms have washed away, sometimes repeatedly. We all pay for those programs through our federal taxes, even though most of us receive no direct benefits since we live and work miles away from ocean houses and business structures. I argue that federal subsidies to shore-huggers should be sharply cut or eliminated.

There have been efforts to reduce the federal government’s burden. In 2012,the Congress approved a law whose intent was to raise NFIP premiums to cover a realistic view of expected losses. But our legislature is a calculus of often conflicting interests, with individual lawmakers strongly inclined to pay most attention to their constituents’ immediate wants and needs. So in 2014 members representing flood-prone areas delayed increases in flood insurance premiums indefinitely.

A second factor resisting limits on government commitments is climate-change denial. Some elected officials, including the current President, deny that humankind has put greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and otherwise altered the Earth, so that rising oceans and storms have become inevitable. Higher and more turbulent seas make past judgments of the risks, and the costs of coast property damages, obsolete, and there is resistance among many of our present leaders to acknowledge that.

Private insurance companies are capable of furnishing disaster insurance, but people who live near the oceans complain the insurance will cost much more if they must buy it from profit-seeking corporations. Uncle Sam can redistribute wealth and risk through the tax system, and the landlubbers in the Midwest may not see their extra tax burden or consider it important enough to object.

I vote for letting those who choose to live or work near the oceans pay the full costs of the increasing risks they assume by moving or staying there.


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