Reality: Truth not a major factor for media, EPA in New
Orleans - by Kit Smith
Brown stepped down from his position as head of FEMA last
week, making him the only individual involved in the quagmire
called the New Orleans relief effort who has been in any
way held accountable for his inactions. Most others, from
government agencies to the rightist media, seem to be pointing
fingers at the butler, the dog, and of course Bill Clinton.
So while the EPA waives an increasing number of environmental
regulations, withholds test data, and disregards the Freedom
of Information Act, news outlets across the nation are claiming
that environmental organizations must share some
of the culpability for the level of devastation brought
about by hurricane Katrina.
September 8th online edition of National Review
ran a grossly misinformative article by one John Berlau,
suggesting that lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, American
Rivers, and other environmental groups are responsible for
the levee breaches during hurricane Katrina. Berlau writes
that “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
it’s quite simple to ascertain. The levees Katrina ruptured
were NOT the Mississippi River levees disputed in these
lawsuits; they were on the other side of the city.
Therefore: NO, the delay affected nothing related to Katrina’s
article is full of words like “left-leaning” and claims
such groups influenced—wait for it—the Clinton administration.
And you thought I was kidding.
such creative blame assignment may be impressive, the absence
of truth in this piece should be cause for concern among
even the most cynical BEAST readers, especially since the
Department of Justice seems to have taken a cue from Berlau’s
Mitchell of Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger wrote a piece exposing
a Department of Justice e-mail sent out to various U.S.
Attorney offices which asks: “Has your district defended
any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers
against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to
block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting
New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome
of the litigation.”
former Army Corps of Engineer chief council Joseph Towers
claimed that a lawsuit from 1977 secured an injunction against
an enormous levee construction project, and that this project,
if completed, would have spared New Orleans. Thomas A. McGarity,
a University of Texas law professor and current president
of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) responded September
saying “The effort to blame environmentalists is outrageous
and cowardly.” A three-page release (available online) by
CPR comprehensively assesses and invalidates the Corps accusations.
such factual responses have not stemmed the stinking tide
of bullshit. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) issued
their own release stating that “environmental groups opposed
flood protection.” An article by Richard Morrison from September
takes this indictment as its title, a statement which, at
face value, is a cold lie.
may recall from a past BEAST article on global warming that
CEI was revealed as a leading recipient of funding from ExxonMobil.
Incidentally, John Berlau is listed as a “CEI expert” on their
website. They do not specify what his expertise is in, but
scrutiny of their other “expert” profiles reveal lawyers and
public-policy makers (Richard Morrison, for example, is the
Director of Media Relations), few of which have any type of
science background and many of whom have only bachelor’s degrees.
the public is led to believe, through persistent lies, that
environmentalists are responsible for some of the damage
done to New Orleans, it not only helps Bush to deflect blame,
it has the doubly beneficial effect of tarnishing his foes.
It will surely make Americans even more receptive to the
notion that environmental regulations are not so necessary,
or indeed that they may even be harmful. This would be good
news not only for polluters, but for the EPA, an organization
which is quietly failing the American Public, and New Orleans
residents in particular, as systemically as did FEMA.
the cops kick your ass, what can you do? Unless you’re lucky
enough to have someone aiming a video camera your direction,
you’ve got no recourse. Similarly, if the federal EPA decides
to break their own environmental regulations, nobody has
much to say about it.
waters that covered New Orleans for a week picked up every
toxin you can imagine, and a lot you probably can’t. Not
just the obvious things like sewage, corpses, and oil from
the spills, but contaminants from every gas station, dry
cleaner, hardware store, and whatever was under the kitchen
sink of every deluged home. Also submerged were a number
of chemical plants and three superfund sites, including
resultant poisonous brew obviously needed to be drained
from the city. Under normal circumstances it is (reasonably)
against the law to dump toxic waste into a body of water.
Yet when New Orleans was pumped dry, millions, possibly
billions of gallons of water were sent untreated
into Lake Pontchartrain. Eventually, this water and all
its contaminants will flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
was no other choice, since there was no plan. Alternatives
didn’t exist because none were ever considered, despite
FEMA’s long-standing assertion that the flooding of New
Orleans was among the three most likely U.S. catastrophic
makes the scenario even more disheartening is that the lake
was an environmental success story, with a twenty year legacy.
Manatees, porpoise, pelicans, and fish (125 species) had
returned, and the city planned to open the beach for swimming
next summer. No way in hell, now. The flood waters’ organic
contaminants alone are guaranteed to trigger fish kills
and cause algae and phytoplankton blooms which will suffocate
marine life. The delicate wetlands around New Orleans, some
of the most sensitive and valuable in the world, have been
destroyed for lack of planning.
it took the EPA two weeks to report on floodwater samples.
And the numbers coming out of the EPA are so confusing
that it’s impossible to know if we’ve lost a horse or found
a rope. For example: Forty-four spills have released more
than seven million gallons of oil. The tell-tale
rainbow sheen can be seen in almost every photograph of
the region, yet the EPA test results claim no benzene, naphthalene,
anthracene or pyrene is in the water. Ahem. Oil contains
benzene, naphthalene, anthracene and pyrene. There is visible
oil in the water. But who are we going to believe, the
EPA or our own lying eyes?
bad data worse than saying nothing? That seemed to be the
EPA’s first tactic. New Orleans’ Times-Picayune requested
basic information about the contamination dangers present
in the flood waters to inform their readership. After several
days of stonewalling by the EPA, editors finally invoked
the Freedom of Information Act. But reports from the Society
of Environmental Journalists indicate that no real response
had been made even to that as of September 14th.
misconstrue: This author is no foe of the EPA. The organization
has far too much responsibility and is abhorrently understaffed
and under-funded. But employees there need to step up at
this time, rather than toe the party line. The aftermath
of hurricane Katrina is revealing the worst environmental
catastrophe in U.S. history, surpassing even the Exxon Valdez.
one time, when the EPA was a functional regulatory body,
it would have acted to minimize the damage and protect people
instead of political capital. But Bush’s EPA is as delusional
and dishonest as the right wing media shills desperately
attempting to blame anyone and everyone for what is clearly
a systemic failure of the federal government.