Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (VA-02) introduced H.R. 5490, the Bolstering Ecosystems Against Coastal Harm (BEACH) Act. This bipartisan legislation aims to protect coastal Virginia by approving new, expanded maps under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, CBRA uses a free-market approach to coastal conservation: banning most federal tax dollars for development and rebuilding on storm prone, ecologically sensitive coastal areas, which helps conserve them as wildlife habitat and essential buffers against storms and flooding for coastal communities.
Importantly, CBRA does not prohibit or regulate development by state and local governments, but simply removes the federal taxpayer from funding coastal development in the CBRA system—a conservative, market-based approach to conservation. A 2019 economic study reported the CBRA has saved U.S. taxpayers $9.5 billion and is projected to save another $11-108 billion over the next 50 years.
In April of 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified 96,435 additional acres in Virginia – including 1,422 of land and 95,013 acres of wetlands and estuarine areas – to include in the Coastal Barrier Resources System. Kiggans’ legislation would provide the Congressional approval required for these maps and related protections to go into effect.
“I’m proud to introduce this bill to save taxpayer dollars and support Virginia’s coastal communities, economy, and wildlife,” said Congresswoman Kiggans. “For 40 years, the Coastal Barrier Resources Act has not only protected millions of acres of beaches and wetlands, but also prevented millions of dollars in property damage from natural disasters. By expanding these maps, my bill will help make our coastal communities more resilient while maintaining fiscal responsibility and critical environmental protections.”
“Coastal barriers provide significant economic and ecosystem benefits,” said Dr. Derek Aday, VIMS Dean & Director. “There is clear scientific evidence that these benefits are enhanced through policies that allow coastal barriers and their associated estuaries, lagoons, tidal flats, and wetlands to remain in their most natural state. Based on the evidence, VIMS supports the BEACH Act.”
Today, 163,589 acres along Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Coast are included in the CBRA system. This includes 974 acres of land and 42,192 acres of wetlands in which nearly all federal expenditures are prohibited. There are also 7,696 acres of land and 112,727 acres of wetlands in “Otherwise Protected Areas,” in which only federal flood insurance is prohibited. In addition to the aforementioned taxpayer benefits, these protected coastal areas provide:
- Habitats for economically important fish and shellfish. Commercial fishing operations in Virginia’s marine waters net more than 321 million pounds of fish and shellfish annually, valued at $214 million, while sports fishermen catch another 25 million pounds of fish and shellfish.
- Recreational opportunities for hunters who benefit from habitat for ducks and other waterfowl that use the CBRA protected areas.
- Protection for nearby coastal communities. Areas in CBRA act as nature’s “speed bumps,” absorbing impacts from storms and hurricanes. It’s estimated that nationwide, coastal wetlands provide more than $23 billion per year in storm protection services. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, coastal wetlands prevented $625 million in property damages from Maine to North Carolina.
You can view the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed changes to the CBRA System in Virginia’s 2nd District here.
You can read the full text of the BEACH Act here.