homesfloodedMillions of Americans living and working in floodplains and other low-lying areas are at acute risk of being inundated – not by rising water, but by a tidal wave of federal regulations – courtesy of the Obama Administration.

With public attention riveted on the chaotic developments in the Middle East and the severe cold weather that gripped much of the nation over the winter, the White House on January 30 quietly issued Executive Order (EO) 13690, “Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input.”

Violating existing law 

The executive order is more than just a mouthful; it is the latest federal intrusion into what have traditionally been predominantly self-governing communities.  In defiance of existing law, the EO redefines the term “floodplain” to expand the area of the country to be regulated as such.  The Obama EO was issued in direct violation of language Congress included in a FY 2015 appropriations bill that prohibited the Administration from implementing new standards until it had solicited and considered input from governors, mayors, and other affected parties.

In a March 30 “Dear Colleague” letter, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) pointed out that, “To date, there has been no public disclosure on ratcliffethe basis of the alternatives included in the EO, how they were developed and decided upon, or a cost-benefit analysis of them.” Ratcliffe further noted that the EO calls for the National Water Council “to issue Guidelines to provide guidance to agencies on [the EO’s] implementation,” even though the National Water Council hasn’t received a cent of federal funding since 1982.

Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

The centerpiece of the Obama executive order is something called the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS).  Under the executive order, the FFRMS applies to new construction and substantial improvements to existing structures in floodplains and other low-lying areas. Speaking for the Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has claimed repeatedly that the FFRMS will not affect private development.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed, the new federal standard will “in fact substantially limit private development,” says Rep. Ratcliffe.  “Because federal agencies must avoid or minimize actions that impact floodplains when taking ‘federal action’ – including when they issue federal permits, licenses, and approvals – the EO is expected to impede or dramatically increase the cost of construction and labor in low-lying communities.”  Failure to adopt the new standard could make communities ineligible for federal programs, including port development projects, hazard mitigation grants, flood control projects, Brownfields redevelopment, Community Development Block Grants, federally backed mortgages, and federal transportation projects.

While the EO is vague on the details of the FFRMS, it says that incorporating the new standard “will ensure that [federal] agencies expand management from the current base flood level to a higher vertical elevation and corresponding horizontal floodplain to address current and future flood risk and ensure that projects funded with taxpayer dollars last as long as intended.

New regulatory regime 

WetlibertyDetermining what constitutes “future flood risk” is closely tied to, in the President’s words, “a national policy on resilience and risk reduction consistent with my Climate Action Plan.”  In other words, the administration’s policies to “combat climate change” will serve to justify the myriad rules, regulations, and standards Washington will impose on communities throughout the country in the name of protecting them from flooding. A regulatory regime is being put into place that will give Washington final say over what can and cannot be built and how structures – residential and commercial – are to be constructed and where.

In taking its micromanagement of American society down to the level of writing local building codes, the Obama Administration is bypassing both Congress and the federal rulemaking process. The goal is very simple:  Make the populace, and the elected officials who supposedly represent them, subservient to Washington.


  • Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

    Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Busines Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country. He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.