Insurance and Climate Change column

IBHS Chief Continues to Ask Congress to Embrace Tax Credits for Climate Resilience

By | October 24, 2019

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has its eye on more than just helping improve safety on the roads and in homes.

The climate and severe weather have also been on the IBHS radar lately.

Roy E. Wright, CEO and president of the institute, was invited to present testimony on climate adaptation to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis on Oct. 17.

Wright testified during a hearing titled “Solving the Climate Crisis: Cleaner, Stronger Buildings,” which was focused on reducing carbon pollution and improving resilience in residential and commercial buildings across the nation.

The National Association of Home Builders, the Building Performance Association, and the Natural Resources Defense Council were also among the groups represented by speakers at the hearing.

It’s available online for those who want to read Wright’s full testimony.

It’s not the first time the IBHS chief has testified on the need for building greater resilience to extreme weather.

He testified in May before the House Ways and Means Committee that severe weather events that occur today drive personal and economic loss, disruption and family displacement, and have long-term impacts on people, as well as local and state economies, for years after the event.

Wright, who formerly served the Federal Emergency Management Agency as chief executive of the National Flood Insurance Program, and deputy associate administrator leading a range of resilience programs, in his testimony called for cost-effective changes to strengthen buildings, for educating home and business owners on the importance of their roof, and for stronger, enforced building codes.

During the latest hearing, he repeated his belief that Congress should consider financing resilience efforts.

“I do think that there are affordable, accessible actions that homeowners can take,” Wright told Insurance Journal following his Congressional testimony.

Strengthening roofs may be inexpensive, and selecting more resilient materials for new construction is “basically cost neutral,” he said.

But not all measures, including those that would make homes more resilient to wildfire, are so affordable, he added.

While creating defensible space zones cost little to no money, steps beyond that, including making homes more fire resistant, can have a bigger price tag, he said.

He believes tax incentives are what is needed to encourage homeowners to make their homes more resilient.

“There will need to be incentives for individual homeowners to take these actions,” he said.

Wright highlighted two ways in which tax laws can be reformed: to remove the tax penalty for individuals and businesses that benefit from state-based catastrophe-loss mitigation programs, and to provide modest tax credits for eligible expenses paid by individuals and businesses for purchases that help reduce potential damage from hurricanes, flooding, and other forms of natural disaster.

He believes the insurance industry will embrace these efforts, with insurers seeing this as a way to keep insurance products affordable.

“What these incentives are going to do is to reduce the risk of specific hazards,” he said. “When those risks go down, premiums follow suit.”

Climate change and resilience have been hot topics in Congress.

Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-New York, on Thursday introduced a bill that would require FEMA policies and programs to reflect the latest climate science. Under her bill, FEMA also would be obligated to assist state, local and private partners in preparing for climate change risks before disaster strikes. This bill also would create a climate change subcommittee, serving under FEMA’s National Advisory Council, with public and private sector representation to advise FEMA on how best to incorporate climate change into its work.

One group that applauded the bill was the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“FEMA’s role in helping the country prepare for climate change can’t be understated,” Rachel Cleetus, the policy director for the climate and energy program at UCS, said in a statement. “It plays a critical role assisting communities as they rebuild from natural disasters, which are getting increasingly worse because of climate change. In fact, this is the fifth consecutive year in which the United States has endured 10 or more ‘billion-dollar’ weather and climate disaster events—an unprecedented trend.

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