Cassidy challenges changes to flood insurance program _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.,

A year after Congress amended the National Flood Insurance Program to prevent south Louisiana homeowners from getting hit with huge premium hikes, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is warning again about proposed changes to the program.

Last month, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to the program, which would take into account projected sea level rises when determining the risk of future flooding for federal buildings.

“The concern is the variables can be arbitrary,” said Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who was in town Wednesday to speak before a luncheon of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors Commercial and Investment Division. “In Pensacola (Florida), the sea levels have risen less than half an inch in three decades. … Louisiana has had a higher increase because the land is subsiding, not because the water is rising.”

While the program is aimed at federal buildings, Cassidy said the change will have an impact on the real estate market in south Louisiana, where some projections call for sea levels to rise by as much as 6 inches. “My concern is it could influence the bond market and other activities,” he said. “That could come in a back-end way to influence the private market.”

Cassidy said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will hold four public hearings on the executive order across the U.S. The closest one will be in Biloxi, Mississippi, on March 5. He’s asking that more hearings be held, especially in south Louisiana.

“We want to trump the argument,” he said, noting that if you put an ice cube in a glass of water and the ice melts, the level of water in the glass doesn’t rise.

Cassidy also discussed another action by Obama that could impact the south Louisiana economy — approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Approving the pipeline, which would transport tar-sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, is a “no brainer” Cassidy said. Because the pipeline crosses the U.S.-Canada border, it needs the approval of the president.

Cassidy accused Obama of not taking action on the pipeline due to pressure from the “environmental left.”

“I don’t know what’s on the president’s mind,” Cassidy said. “His own State Department said shipping oil by pipeline is safer.”

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