Tax, Environmental Groups Question Hurricane Bailout Plan

Group says insurance fund would reward wealthy beach-house owners who built in disaster-prone areas.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

As hurricane season officially starts today, a battle between lawmakers from hurricane states and environmentalist and taxpayer groups is brewing over how to handle natural disasters and their aftermath. The fight was kicked off last month when Florida Rep. Ron Klein introduced the Homeowners' Defense Act, which would let states pool resources to provide national disaster insurance for those living in Hurricane Alley. His argument is that it would spread out the cost, thus making the insurance cheaper for the homeowners living near coastal areas. He says that a similar plan had Sen. Barack Obama's support two years ago.

But taxpayer and environmental groups have come together in an unusual coalition to fight the plan, which they view as a bailout for wealthy beach-house owners. Instead, SmarterSafer.org, formerly Americans for Smart Natural Catastrophe Policy, wants to focus on mitigation policies to lessen the impact of natural disasters like hurricanes. "Our side is to strengthen mitigation policies so that homes are more likely to be protected so they don't have to be rebuilt again and again when a major hurricane strikes," spokesman Ron Bonjean told Whispers. "The other side would like to establish a national catastrophe fund in order to bail out wealthy homeowners who choose to live along the ocean without proper insurance or strengthening their homes. It's a bailout for beach houses." The coalition includes groups like the Sierra Club, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and American Rivers. "We oppose a natural catastrophe backstop because it incentivizes building in ecologically sensitive areas," says American Rivers Vice President Andrew Fahlund. The coalition has launched a special website, www.SmarterSafer.org, to build support for mitigation policies.

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