As President Ronald Reagan said in October 1982 when he signed the Evans-Chafee Bill, "It is a classic example of environmental legislation that is a triumph for national resource conservation and federal fiscal responsibility."
In these times of hardball politics we sometimes forget how much good can be accomplished by working across party lines on common-sense matters.
I want to give you a prime example. Thirty years ago this autumn Congress passed almost unanimously and Reagan signed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) which helps protect critical undeveloped coastal habitats, reduces the public's exposure to catastrophic storm damage, promotes public safety and helps to protect and buffer the built environment.
Barrier islands and associated wetlands provide critical habitats for fish and shellfish. CBRA has saved, and continues to save, American taxpayers billions of dollars. It helps protect sea turtles and shore birds as well as public beaches and shores where people fish, swim and enjoy our coast.
CBRA areas constitute approximately 3 million acres of beach, shores and barrier islands on America's east and Gulf coasts as well as portions of the Great Lakes and approximately 750,000 acres in Florida.
How did this happen and how does CBRA work? In the late 1970s, U.S. Rep. Tom Evans, R-Del., Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., and their colleagues in Congress began working on early versions of what would become law in 1982. They wanted to develop new and effective tools to help protect undeveloped areas along America's coast by removing federal incentives to develop these areas.
Why do so? These areas have significant natural values and are also prone to costly and predictable storm damages from hurricanes, flooding and northeasters. If developed, these low-lying, storm-prone areas ability to buffer storm damages are reduced, habitat values are degraded and the public is put on the hook to pay costly and recurring public subsidies for infrastructure including new roads, federal flood insurance, sewer grants, beach replacement and more.
The goal is to eliminate public subsidies for development of vulnerable undeveloped areas along our coasts. Private development of these areas could still occur but without public subsidies. A private individual or developer could develop their parcels without additional regulations but on their own nickel.
Evans and Chafee worked with Democrats and Republicans and gradually put this monumental legislation together. You can imagine it wasn't easy to do because people generally like subsidies for their activities.
Many coastal parcels, now known as CBRA units, that were free of development were identified for the legislation and were finally put together in a bill that brought people together to help save environmental values and the taxpayers' money. President Reagan signed it.
It made sense then, and it still does. In fact, with rising seas it makes even more sense today. To learn more about America's Coastal Barrier Resources Act and maps of the areas within the CBRA system, go the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website (www.fws.gov/).
We wish to acknowledge the great lasting work and foresight of conservation leaders like Evans and Chafee and their colleagues, and encourage current and future members of Congress to learn the lesson that you can both protect the environment and save taxpayer money at the same time.