September 15, 2005

Enviros Stop Levee Work

The problems getting Louisiana levee reconstruction projects done aren't all about federal funding. Two recent articles are focusing on the substantial role of the environmentalists in delaying or stopping altogether federal government plans to complete levee projects in Louisiana, among other places. John Berlau explains that "levee" is a dirty word to these folks:

The Army Corps was planning to upgrade 303 miles of levees along the river in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. This was needed, a Corps spokesman told the Baton Rouge, La., newspaper The Advocate, because “a failure could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming, if they overcame them at all.”

But a suit filed by environmental groups at the U.S. District Court in New Orleans claimed the Corps had not looked at “the impact on bottomland hardwood wetlands.” The lawsuit stated, “Bottomland hardwood forests must be protected and restored if the Louisiana black bear is to survive as a species, and if we are to ensure continued support for source population of all birds breeding in the lower Mississippi River valley.” In addition to the Sierra Club, other parties to the suit were the group American Rivers, the Mississippi River Basin Alliance, and the Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi Wildlife Federations.

The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.

But it is just one illustration of a destructive river-management philosophy that took hold in the ‘90s, influenced the Clinton administration, and had serious policy consequences. Put simply, it’s impossible to understand the delays in building levees without being aware of the opposition of the environmental groups to dams, levees, and anything that interfered with the “natural” river flow. The group American Rivers, which leads coalitions of eco-groups on river policy, has for years actually called its campaign, “Rivers Unplugged.”

Over the past few years, levees came to occupy the same status for environmental groups as roads in forests — an artificial barrier to nature. They frequently campaigned against levees being built and shored up on the nation’s rivers, including on the Mississippi.

And Bob Tyrell recounts how Al Gore had a speech in New Orleans cancelled by Katrina in which he was to have blamed global warming for the hurricane season. Instead...

On Sept. 9 he spoke in San Francisco, where he said "The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences." And he urged that "the leaders of our country be held accountable" for the flooding of New Orleans. Unfortunately he was addressing the Sierra Club, which was not the best place to bring up the flooding of New Orleans.

The very day he spoke a congressional task force reported that the levees that failed in New Orleans would have been raised higher and strengthened in 1996 by the Army Corps of Engineers were it not for a lawsuit filed by environmentalists led by who else but the Sierra Club. Among those "leaders of our country" to "be held accountable" for the flooding of New Orleans, would Al include the Sierra Club? How about the Save the Wetlands stalwarts? According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, a 1977 lawsuit filed by Save the Wetlands stopped a congressionally-funded plan to protect New Orleans with a "massive hurricane barrier." A judge found that New Orleans' hurricane barrier would have to wait until the Army Corps of Engineers filed a better environmental-impact statement.

Now, because those who would have improved hurricane protection in New Orleans were prevented by the environmentalist rigorists, the wetlands are polluted and imperiled and New Orleans has suffered the damage that practical minds have been trying to prevent for three decades...

In addition to the Al Gores of the world, Tyrell cites also...

...a well-intentioned piece of legislation that has become a major stumbling block to improving the nation's infrastructure and energy production, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). The legislation might have been sensible at the time but it has grown like a bureaucratic cancer. Environmentalist lawyers have expanded its reach until it now entoils practically any construction done by the federal government in red tape that stops projects large and small, some mere pork barrel expense, some critical to the safety of the citizenry.

Posted by dan at September 15, 2005 4:35 PM