(Senate - September 20, 2011)

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[Pages S5774-S5776]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


      By Mr. LAUTENBERG (for himself, Mr. Kirk, and Mrs. Boxer):
  S. 1582. A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to 
modify provisions relating to beach monitoring, and for other purposes; 
to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
  Mr. KIRK. Mr. President, today I am pleased to join with Senator 
Frank Lautenberg to introduce the Clean Coastal Environment and Public 
Health Act of 2011 to help protect the millions of Americans who 
utilize public beaches each day.
  Unfortunately, every year many beaches go unmonitored or face severe 
delays in receiving test results of levels of contamination in coastal 
waters. Without proper monitoring and notification, thousands of 
citizens risk illness due to growing contamination of our coastal 
waters. Beach closings are a far too regular occurrence along the 52 
public Lake Michigan beaches in my home State of Illinois. According to 
the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 579 beach closures 
or contamination advisories last year, an 8 percent increase from 2008. 
Beach closures greatly affect the health of our children and families--
a recent University of Chicago study showed swim bans at Chicago's 
beaches due to E. coli levels cost the local economy $2.4 million in 
lost revenue every year. This bipartisan legislation requires rapid 
testing methods to detect water contamination in 4 hours or less, 
faster notification and decision about closures and advisories within 2 
hours. These measures can help save millions of Americans from hospital 
bills or unnecessary beach closings.
  But we must not ignore the more dangerous toxin which has far 
reaching consequences for the most vulnerable members our society--our 
children. Mercury pollution is a serious problem nationwide and is 
particularly concerning since large amounts can accumulate in fish 
tissue. Mercury levels in the Great Lakes, particularly in Lake 
Michigan, are poorly understood. Moving forward, it is critical that we 
revise the outdated monitoring and testing of this dangerous toxin. 
This bill also requires the Administrator of the Environmental 
Protection Agency to update existing monitoring protocols and develop 
updated testing recommendations for the existence of mercury in Great 
Lakes coastal waters, sediment and fish.
  Protecting the Great Lakes and our coastal waters is one of my top 
priorities in Congress. I am proud to be the lead cosponsor of this 
important legislation that addresses a key problem facing our Great 
Lakes beaches. I urge my colleagues to support this bill to help 
safeguard our future generations and our most precious natural 
      By Mr. INHOFE (for himself, Mr. Blunt, and Mr. Chambliss)
  S. 1583. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide 
a tax deduction for the purchase, construction, and installation of a 
safe room or storm shelter, and for other purposes; to the Committee on 
  Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, being from Oklahoma, I can remember back 
in the days when they called Oklahoma, southern Kansas, northern Texas, 
and southwestern Missouri tornado alley. I say to my good friend from 
Oregon that I have been in aviation for many years. I know people who 
won't even fly airplanes through what we call tornado alley. But by now 
I think we know that tornadoes are a daily threat to Americans each 
spring as severe weather rolls across the country. In the past 30 
years, over 34,000 tornadoes have touched down somewhere in the 
country, which means that one touches down, on average, every 8 hours 
of each day. This chart right here shows that each one of these little 
green dots represents a tornado.
  As we all witnessed once again this spring, many of these tornadoes 
grow into very voracious and dangerous storms that bring significant 
harm to property and life. This year, 57 such tornadoes struck 14 
States and claimed 550 lives. Alabama was the hardest hit. I can 
remember when Oklahoma was ranked as the hardest hit. They had over 240 
killed. Missouri also suffered heavily with the loss of 157 people in 
Joplin. I say to my friend from Missouri, who is on the floor, I was up 
in Joplin right after that happened, down close to the Oklahoma border. 
It is something you have to witness before you understand it. In my 
State of Oklahoma where we have more than our fair share of violent 
tornadoes, this spring's storms resulted in the death of 14 people and 
the injury of many others. Until you have this happen, and you go on 
site, which I always make it a point to do--after each tornado in 
Oklahoma, you go down and talk to the people. You think of little kids 
looking for their toys and this type of thing, but they are gone and 
gone for good.
  While this year has seen a large number of fatal tornadoes, they are 
a nationwide threat each spring. Since 1980, 734 tornadoes have claimed 
2,462 lives in at least 37 different States, including 126 in my State 
of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, many of these lost lives

[[Page S5775]]

could have been avoided had storm shelters been more widely used.
  In the past few months, a number of Oklahomans have asked me if there 
is a Federal program that promotes the installation of tornado storm 
shelters. They observed that those individuals who have these storm 
shelters live through it. They may lose their property, but they live 
through it. So they think, Well, government gets involved in all of 
these programs; what are they going to do to help us encourage people 
to build storm shelters? When I looked into it, I came up emptyhanded 
despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars are obligated 
each year to mitigate the effects of natural disasters.
  Since death is one of the worst effects of natural disasters, one 
would think tornado storm shelters, which are the safest way to ride 
out tornadoes, would be a high priority, but only limited funds have 
been made available in the past, and it has been sporadic and poorly 
allocated. Most of the funds have been made available through FEMA's 
Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program, which is a mandatory program that 
allocates funds to States to help them better prepare for future 
disasters. States are able to direct some of this money to residential 
storm shelter construction, but to do this they have to go through a 
lot of hoops--through a lengthy process of coordinating a program with 
FEMA. Needless to say, it is a bureaucratic nightmare and hugely 
  Oklahoma did this after the devastating tornadoes of May 3, 1999. 
Fifty people died and many others were injured that day. As the 
recovery effort took hold, it became clear to public leaders that 
staggeringly few Oklahomans had storm shelters accessible for their 
homes. Because of this, Oklahoma's Department of Emergency Management 
worked with FEMA to create a temporary rebate program to encourage 
individuals to install storm shelters in their homes. The rebate was 
worth $2,000, and the funding cap was set at $6 million.
  Unfortunately, the program didn't perform as well as they would have 
liked. It was a popular program and funding depleted quickly. But 
because of the rebate amount, only 3,000 homeowners were able to take 
advantage of the program, despite its $6 million funding level. We are 
talking about in the State of Oklahoma.
  Furthermore, because this program was run through FEMA, it had a lot 
of paperwork requirements and was time consuming for the State to 
actually formalize. The ultimate decision of who received the rebate 
rested with FEMA and the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management 
and they decided who received the rebate and who did not. If you ask 
me, that is a pretty expensive, poorly designed program, but that is 
generally the way FEMA structures these programs when States go to the 
trouble of requesting them. All told, FEMA's sporadic Hazard Mitigation 
Grant Program for residential storm shelters has supported the 
construction of only 15,000 storm shelters at a staggering cost of $35 
million. That is $2,000 for each storm shelter.
  A different approach is needed to encourage a wider group of people 
to install tornado storm shelters. This would help mitigate the loss of 
life during tornadoes. To give people the opportunity--I have 20 kids 
and grandkids. My first concern every time I hear of a tornado coming 
is for them. That is why we have introduced this bill called the Storm 
Shelter Tax Relief Act. It provides a tax deduction of up to $2,500 to 
any individual who installs a qualified storm shelter. The cost of this 
deduction is fully offset, which I will explain in a minute, where it 
is coming from, and there are reductions in other areas of spending.
  First, the deduction can be claimed by any taxpayer. If someone in 
Oklahoma, Kentucky, or Tennessee decides they need a storm shelter at 
their house, they can pay to have one installed and then claim the 
incentive by deducting up to $2,500 from their income when they file 
their taxes. Claiming this incentive would not require dealing with a 
big bureaucracy. One doesn't have to fill out the forms. One does not 
have to go through all the redtape. That is one of the reasons people 
don't do it under the existing programs. As I said before, previous 
programs that have been administered through FEMA place the power of 
the shelter incentive into the hands of an agency and not a family, not 
individuals. The agency then decides who does and does not receive the 
incentive. I think it is best when this middleman can be avoided, and a 
tax deduction does that. The Tax Code is blind and provides the 
incentive to anyone who decides in their best judgment that they need a 
storm shelter.
  Lastly, and probably most importantly, the tax deduction is a better 
allocation of scarce taxpayer resources. A rebate that covers a large 
portion of a shelter's cost, as the Oklahoma program did, can foster 
moral hazard. What I mean is that when free money is on the table, 
people generally take it. In this case, people may take the rebate to 
buy a storm shelter because it is free, not because it is what they 
need. A tax deduction doesn't allow this because the actual incentive 
is much lower in value. No one is going to go out and spend $2,000 or 
more on a storm shelter because they get to write that amount off of 
their taxable income. Nobody does that. A rational individual would 
only go out to buy a shelter if they know they need one and then it has 
the added benefit of being deducted from their income, so it is a much 
better way of approaching it. On the aggregate level, this allows a lot 
more people to get the incentive at the same cost compared to the 
rebate programs that have been used in the past. A tax deduction 
provides a nudge to taxpayers to take practical steps to stay safe in 
areas where tornadoes are common. It is a commonsense approach and a 
better way to use taxpayer resources.
  Further, this proposal's $41 million cost is fully paid for by 
rescinding funds authorized for storm shelter construction grants 
through the programs administered through HUD. In other words, we are 
doing this program and providing countless more shelters at a cost that 
would merely mean a tax deduction, and it is going to have a lot more 
people participating in the program. This means that existing unspent 
HUD funds that are duplicative of other FEMA spending will be 
redirected to a more effective policy in order to accomplish the same 
goal: Encourage the installation of more storm shelters to save lives 
from deadly tornadoes.

  Many may wonder why this is something the Federal Government should 
be doing. In reality, this falls squarely within the purpose of the 
hazard mitigation priorities of the Federal Government. FEMA defines 
hazardous mitigation as ``any sustained action taken to reduce or 
eliminate long-term risk to life and property from a hazard event.'' 
HMGP regulations state that projects ``retrofitting structures . . . to 
minimize damages from high winds, earthquake, flood, wildfire, or other 
natural hazards'' are eligible for the expenditure of program dollars. 
The main goal of all this spending is to reduce the likelihood of 
losses of life and property, and retrofitting buildings to lesson the 
likelihood of damage caused by tornadoes is an eligible expense. That 
is what this tax deduction does.
  Furthermore, the threat of deadly and dangerous tornadoes stretches 
far across the Nation. We saw the first map, but this map shows it is 
not just the tornado alley I referred to right here. With the exception 
of mountainous areas here, the danger zone is all across America. Not 
surprisingly, Oklahoma is right in the center. When we look at where 
deadly tornadoes have occurred during the past 30 years, it is spread 
across the entire eastern half of the country. All the States in red 
have had at least one deadly tornado every other year since 1980, and 
most of them have had even more. This may be surprising, but the threat 
is real. It needs to be addressed. More tornado storm shelters need to 
be constructed around the country and Federal policies encouraging this 
need to be changed. That is why we are introducing the Storm Shelter 
Tax Relief Act. The number of this bill, I say to my colleagues, is S. 
1583. It was introduced today. I think those of us who have lived in 
these tornado-prone areas--I can tell stories about tornadoes picking 
up a horse and replacing it, dropping it someplace. In my personal 
experience, my wife was after me about 50 years ago when we had a place 
up in the country--we still have the same place--and I had a red Jeep. 

[[Page S5776]]

red Jeep was one we had for a long time. She said, How come you don't 
have that insured? I said, What could happen to a red Jeep in the 
middle of the country in Oklahoma? Well, a tornado came along, picked 
up a tree and dropped it right on top of my red Jeep. It cut it in 
half. So they are totally unpredictable.
  I can tell more stories about Moore, OK, when we had our 1999 tornado 
where everything was devastated on one side of the street and nothing 
was touched on the other side of the street.
  It is an art to understanding where these are coming from. We now 
have developed that art. There is not a person who could be in the path 
of a tornado who doesn't have the facilities and the resources to see 
what is out there and where it is coming. What they don't have is a 
way, if it is unavoidable, to protect themselves if it hits them. The 
obvious answer is a storm shelter.
  I appreciate the Senator from Missouri, who is going to speak next, 
cosponsoring this bill. We would like to have more cosponsors. We have 
every intention of getting this passed.
  With that, I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER pro tempore. The Senator from Missouri.
  Mr. BLUNT. Mr. President, I am pleased to cosponsor the bill with 
Senator Inhofe. Between he and I, we may have been to the scenes of 
more tornadoes than almost anybody else in America who is not a storm 
chaser. Because of where we live and what we have done, we have had a 
chance to see the aftermath of many tornadoes. Unlike the floods we 
have dealt with in our State this year and the hurricanes we have dealt 
with in other States recently, the tornado is there and you don't get 
much warning, and that storm shelter needs to be close if you want a 
chance to get into it. The bill he has drafted and I am proud to 
cosponsor with him provides an opportunity to get that storm shelter