By: Emily Gertz, Audubon
A bill to protect thousands of acres of Atlantic coastline from development sailed through the House of Representatives on a 375-1 vote last week. The Senate is likely to pass it as well, though it’s unclear if that will happen before the end of the year.
H.R. 5787 was introduced by Representative Neal Dunn (R-FL) back in May and cosponsored by Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Thomas Rooney (R-FL), and Brian Mast (R-FL). Using digitally created maps, updated for the first time in decades, it adds 17,000 new acres of shore and near-shore waters in Delaware, Florida, and North and South Carolina to the Coastal Barrier Resources System, which already covers 3.5 million acres of land. The protected lands, as a whole, benefit taxpayers, wildlife, and waterfront communities.
Enacted in 1982, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to map undeveloped areas along the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes. After Congress reviewed and accepted the identified tracts, they became off-limits to federal programs that offer funds to underwrite development projects that would degrade or destroy habitat.
Removing these incentives, which lower developers’ costs to build and blunt weather-related damages, has helped preserve wildlife and buffer people against climate change-driven storms and sea-level rise, says Karen Hyun, Audubon's vice president of coastal conservation. In the process, she adds, the law has saved taxpayers billions of dollars.
The act was last reauthorized in 2006. At the time, Congress asked the USFWS to use modern geographic data to digitize the original hand-drawn maps. The additional acres that the House greenlit on Friday are the first agency recommendations from that process.
Overall, the CBRA has earned a gamut of supporters in and outside of the environmental sphere who agree with the law’s free-market approach to conservation. Several Audubon chapters and offices, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and others joined the Reinsurance Association of America to sign a recent letter to House leaders urging passage of the bill.
“Conservatives love to hear if you have ideas to spend less,” says R.J. Lehman, the director of finance, insurance, and trade policy for R Street, a libertarian-leaning think tank that also signed the letter. “If you’re doing so in a way that reduces areas in which the federal government is actively encouraging environmental harm, that’s a good place to find common ground.”
In a 2007 report to Congress on the CBRA's impacts, the Government Accountability Office found that about 84 percent of the areas covered by the law had remained undeveloped and 13 percent were minimally developed. Just 3 percent of the remaining acres had seen “significant development” of 100 or more structures per unit of land…