Disaster Bills Top $300 Billion From Wildfires and Hurricanes

Nov 3, 2017  | 3 min  | Ep4311

The Republican tax plan introduced this week eliminates the estate tax along with the deduction for state and local taxes. If adopted in its current form, $1.5 trillion will be added to the already burgeoning $19 trillion national debt.

As the details are hammered out, the damage estimates from recent natural disasters may hit $330 billion – more than double the bill for 2005’s Katrina and Rita hurricanes. The tally brought cash-strapped agency administrators to the Hill.

Paul Yeager has the details.

2017 may be known as the year of the disasters. Hurricanes, like Harvey, Irma and Maria plus wildfires that lambasted the west, have left unprecedented destruction in their wakes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator Brock Long told a Senate panel this week FEMA has authorized 25 fire assistance grant declarations.

To date, wildfires have charred nearly 9 million acres in almost 53,000 fires, which are both ahead of the ten-year average.

Also, during a 25-day stretch, the agency and its partners deployed tens of thousands of personnel across 270,000 square miles in three regions to assist in hurricane response which have impacted about 8 percent of the entire U.S. population.

Rebuilding will take time and right now, FEMA is spending about $200 million a day on emergency response. 

Sen. Tom Carper, (D) Delaware: "We must ensure that the federal government is meeting the needs of the survivors of these disasters and at the same time ensure that federal funds as the chairman said were being used efficiently and effectively. Every dollar wasted is a dollar that won't be available to help other Americans who are still in need."

Puerto Rico, one of the heavily damaged areas by recent hurricanes, has experienced another storm as Long told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee about the monumental task of restoring power in the U.S. territory.

Brock Long, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator: “The age of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico I believe the power plants was close to over 40 years average age, worldwide the average age of powerplants is about 18 years. So there is a big discrepancy there and in many cases I think what we're running into in the complexities is some deferred maintenance issues in different things.”

Private contractor Whitefish Energy Holdings was recently awarded a $300 million no-bid contract, has come under fire for their lack of experience and being based in the same hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. At the beginning of the week, the Montana company’s CEO said he’ll seek to cancel the contract.  

Sen. Jon Tester, (D) Montana: "Here is what I want to know about, it is a nine member board, that I should be tickled pink that they gave a contract to a company in Montana. But as you look at the situation two people, in business two years, never done disaster work before. What kind of people are on this board? No bid contract. I mean I got to tell you something, if it was any of you guys? If it was you Brock I wouldn't start by saying you're doing a great job I'll tell you that. Okay.”

Brock Long, FEMA: “And we raised the red flag. There were many things wrong. There was also language in there that would suggest that the federal government would never audit Whitefish. There’s not a lawyer inside FEMA that would ever agree to that type of language.”

For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.

Grinnell Mutual Insurance