By Rep. Lou Barletta
In the late summer of 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc on swaths across the eastern United States, including in my home state of Pennsylvania. Lives were lost, families were broken, and businesses and homes were destroyed or damaged. To say the very least, natural disasters of these kind are extremely disruptive to people and the economy, and impose massive cleanup and rebuilding costs on taxpayers.
Over the last 30 years, it is estimated that similar events have racked up more than $1 trillion in damages and costs. Because of the strength and fury of such storms, there will always be chaos to address in their aftermaths, but what if there were actions we could take now that would reduce these consequences in the future? Fortunately, there are such steps, and we know them by the term “mitigation.”
There are a variety of ways to mitigate future damage, such as elevating homes out of floodways or removing debris from waterways to make drainage easier. Building owners might install storm shutters, roof storm clips, or tie-downs to help structures withstand high winds and prevent devastating losses and costs. We know mitigation efforts like building codes, flood-proofing and earthquake design standards can relieve or, in some cases, eliminate the human and financial impact of disasters on the nation.
As the chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I am working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to explore ways Congress can help encourage mitigation practices that will save lives and taxpayer money from disasters.
Here in Congress, several members have offered approaches to facilitate mitigation and encourage the building of stronger and more disaster-resistant communities. These proposals include incentives for state and local governments to improve their building codes, which can reduce building damage and protect people from harm during a catastrophe. Other bills provide tax incentives to individual homebuilders or homeowners if they choose strong building materials and construction methods.
Another proposal would allow individuals to set aside up to $5,000 annually in tax-free accounts for disaster mitigation expenses.
While all of these measures need to be evaluated closely and evaluated for their impacts on taxpayers, they do share a common characteristic: they are incentives and not mandates.