By Dan Shapley
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has failed to protect the environmental features -- like wetlands and streamside vegetation -- that help blunt the force of flooding, the agency determined in a report it quietly released last month. The first wholesale review of the federal flood insurance program found a host of serious problems that the agency will now set about fixing. But the agency will also need expanded powers to fulfill the tasks it has set for itself: It lacks the authority to regulate floodplains to preserve wetlands. The report was in the making for seven years, and involved hundreds of recommendations that affect millions of Americans living in coastal zones and floodplains. If enacted, the new guidelines could mean "tougher construction standards, expanded insurance mandates, higher premiums for many properties, and policies that discourage or ban development near water," according to a Sarasota Herald-Tribune analysis.