(Bloomberg News) Telephone repairman Josh Smith lives in Jasper, which is Florida's most inland city, according to the state's Geological Survey.
Even 75 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Smith isn't immune to rising seas and stronger storms caused by global warming. That's because U.S. taxpayers help insure against hurricane damage for nearly 5 million Americans, mostly in Florida, whose homes are less than four feet (1.2 meters) above normal high tides. The programs pit beachfront property owners against inland residents who subsidize their policies.
Sea level may rise eight inches in the next 18 years and 80 inches by 2100, Climate Central Inc., a nonprofit research and advocacy organization in Princeton, New Jersey, estimated in a report this month. Global warming doubles the odds of the most- disastrous flooding for two-thirds of 55 U.S. coastal locations studied and triples the chance in about half of those, the group said. The rise of the oceans also may produce stronger storms.
"We've put ourselves in this situation by choosing to live a few feet from the coast," said Smith, a 31-year-old Hamilton County commissioner. "I certainly hope I never have oceanfront property in Jasper."
Higher oceans raise hurricane damage, said the Consumer Federation of America's insurance director, J. Robert Hunter. The Washington organization includes 300 advocacy groups.
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"It's not just the frequency of flooding, but the severity of storms," Hunter said. "You might have the same number of hurricanes, but with higher sea levels they're going to travel farther inland and cause more damage."
Taxpayers subsidize insurance on beach real estate through programs at state and federal levels.
Louisiana, Florida and all Atlantic Coast states save Maine write wind coverage for high-risk properties, according to 2010 report from Towers Watson & Co., a consulting firm in New York. Their exposure rose almost 14-fold to $757.9 billion in 2010 from $54.7 billion in 1990, according to a report last year from the industry-backed Insurance Information Institute in New York.
Florida's state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is the largest coverage provider, with 1.43 million policies, almost a quarter of the market, according to the Insurance Regulation Office in Tallahassee.
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