Every now and then, a headline has me wondering “what is this?” I love whales and watching them. I love salmon in a very different way and usually only watch them on my dinner plate. So, when the Insurance Journal listed a headline, Flood Program Must Consider Salmon and Whales, my curiosity was piqued.

Here is the gist of the article:

Federal fisheries experts have told the Federal Emergency Management Agency that — by underwriting thousands of flood insurance policies in Puget Sound — it encourages construction in floodplains in ways that harm federally protected species.

In response, FEMA is now drafting new building rules for about 122 communities in Puget Sound to minimize the harm to salmon and endangered whales that feed on them.

"We’re going to see less damages caused by flooding and less lives lost due to flooding and good riparian stewardship," said John Graves, a floodplain specialist with the National Flood Insurance Program.

What FEMA is doing in Washington state is being closely watched elsewhere.

Conservation groups across the country have challenged FEMA’s flood program for harming endangered sea turtles in Florida, pallid sturgeon in Missouri, jaguars in Arizona, salmon in Oregon, and the Southwestern willow flycatcher in New Mexico.

FEMA has "a national responsibility to comply with the Endangered Species Act and not harm imperiled species by allowing and even subsidizing development in floodplain habitat areas," said Dan Siemann, senior environmental policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.

Conservation groups say FEMA’s program allows building to occur in areas where it otherwise would not, since most private insurers won’t safeguard homes in such flood-prone areas. They say the agency sets minimum building standards, but those don’t consider impacts of development on wildlife and their habitat.

I imagine that environmental groups could use the same logic and tactic to force federally funded or guaranteed mortgages to be written with new environmental building rules. And, maybe that is the way it should be. Construction and building codes can potentially harm or have significant impact on the environment and our fellow creatures living on earth.

There are significant federalism and public policy issues in those topics. Certainly, building codes should allow for affordable housing and there should be codes written with the environment in mind…but shouldn’t those be written and decided by the governing authorities charged with the responsibilities associated with those issues? Shouldn’t mitigation be the primary concern in the National Flood Program Building Codes?