Salon.com has carried a series of articles accusing Bush of cutting flood control project funding for New Orleans despite a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warning that a hurricane hitting New Orleans was among the top three catastrophic disaster risks the United States faced. All true. But FactCheck.org reports that the Army Corps of Engineers project would only have shored up levees and made other improvements to a design rating for a category 3 hurricane.
The multi-decade project involved building new levees, enlarging existing levees, and updating other protections like floodwalls. It was scheduled to be completed in 2015.
Katrina was a category 4 hurricane when it hit. And while others, notably “the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., the former chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency” foresaw a levee breach as a possibility, the Corps mostly did not. But FactCheck.org notes that flooding “from water washing over the levees” was foreseen.
Would a completed project have fared better against the hurricane which hit? Possibly, but the Corps “insists that Katrina was just too strong, and that even if the levee project had been completed it was only designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane.”
There are other reasons to blame Bush. Sidney Blumenthal, in his article also mentioned “[t]he Bush administration’s policy of turning over wetlands to developers…. Every two miles of wetland between the Crescent City and the Gulf reduces a surge by half a foot.” But a 2002 Congressional report “estimated that 80% of the total loss of coastal wetlands in the United States has taken place in [Louisiana].” If 80% had already been lost in 2002, most of the damage had probably already been done before Bush the younger came into office.
And, of course, the Bush administration has ignored warnings about global warming, which many believe intensified the storm. Here again, global warming began before Bush came into office; while his attitude towards the scientific evidence has been wholly irresponsible, one cannot blame him for all global warming.
There are some points which do stick. This was a foreseen disaster.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report from before September 11, 2001 detailed the three most likely catastrophic disasters that could happen in the United States: a terrorist attack in New York, a strong earthquake in San Francisco, and a hurricane strike in New Orleans.
Joe Conason points to “the downgrading of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from a Cabinet-level agency to a neglected sideline of the Department of Homeland Security,” essentially emasculating the federal goverment of its ability to respond to these kinds of crises. In addition, while Bush can’t be blamed for all the wetland destruction and all the global warming, he has done nothing even to halt the damage being done. So while we can’t really blame Bush for Katrina, we can certainly hold him responsible for a series of policies, which Katrina has proven wrong. And the right wing is also wrong to once again silence debate, this time on environmental policy, in the name of patriotism.
Honest political debate over how and why we lost the great city of New Orleans, according to the latest dictates from the right, means “an excess of recrimination,” “finger-pointing” and “villain hunting.” Such a “vulgar” exercise risks overshadowing our normal national unity and generosity in confronting disaster with “divisiveness” and “partisanship.” We are piously advised instead to do good and find common ground, to “be humble, compassionate and helpful.” Thus speak the sages of the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal.