As pointed out in several analyses of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, the hurricane was no natural disaster – it was a disaster created by ineffective institutions before, during and after the storm.
Some of the most important decisions that left New Orleans vulnerable to an event like Katrina were made by the Army Corps of Engineers, the nation’s lead agency on levee construction and flood control. Studies show New Orleans was at risk to flooding and storm surge from hurricanes prior to the storm hitting, yet the Corps and many other political players and agencies failed to take those warnings into account when designing, building and maintaining the hurricane protection system.
“The Homeland Security Committee’s investigation of the Hurricane Katrina disaster showed the catastrophic consequences of being ill-prepared for a natural disaster. Our more recent hearing revealed that federal programs have not taken climate change into account in their underwriting or budgets. It is absolutely critical that the Army Corps prepare for the potential impacts of global climate change, which are expected to include increased droughts, floods, and more intense hurricanes.” –Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), 2007
The Army Corps has instituted many reforms since Katrina. One, its “Responding to Climate Change” program, seeks to help the Corps be science-based and forward-looking to anticipate future natural disasters and climate risks like sea level rise. But in the third installment of its reckless attacks on the federal government preparing for climate risks, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rider to the 2012 Energy and Water spending bill that strips funding for this critical program. Given the Army Corp’s responsibilities for flood and coastal protection, this amendment puts communities at increased risk of flood and storm damage.
Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), who sponsored the amendment, charged that climate change was not in the Army Corps’ mission. Yet climate change directly threatens the agency’s mission – to “Provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.” Apparently Rep. Woodall and the 218 other representatives who approved the rider don’t think the Army Corps should be thinking about how we prepare for future Hurricane Katrinas.
The Woodall rider will cost us in dollars and lives. The Senate should reject it outright.