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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Senator Kennedy’s Gulf Coast Rebuilding Plan


EMK-official Senate portrait

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

While others have gone quickly online with some very affectionate and stirring tributes to Senator Kennedy, we wanted to take a little time to reflect on his life and work (plus, we’ve been busy fine-tuning our newly redesigned web site). As usual, we look at things in relation to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast. It may be only accidental that the great senator’s death falls within days of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, but there’s an important connection people should know about, and surely some credit goes to the Louisiana woman he married, Victoria Reggie Kennedy.

It was Senator Kennedy who proposed a Gulf Coast Rebuilding Plan soon after the storm. This comprehensive rebuilding plan was said at the time to have been modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority; as usual, Senator Kennedy thought large, seeing the scope of the effort the crisis called for. (Note that here, once again, he found a cosponsor for a bipartisan bill in Republican senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.)

The Gulf Coast Recovery and Disaster Preparedness Agency proposed by Kennedy and Gregg would address environmental restoration, housing, hospitals and other health care facilities, employment and training, water management, and would direct restoration and better planning for future transportation, utility infrastructure, and other public facilities. (See more details here.) This bill is well thought out, and all the elements the bill would address have still only partly been touched on even after the four years and billions of dollars spent on the recovery effort.

The Gulf Coast Rebuilding Plan should be picked up by Senator Gregg and a Democratic cosponsor: We nominate hard-working Senator Mary Landrieu, and will pitch this idea to her and her staff. We ask our readers to encourage her to pick up the idea and press forward. Her phone number is (202) 224-5824. Perhaps she could combine it with her proposed Gulf Coast Protection Act (think big, Mary). As noted above, Senator Kennedy’s wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, is originally from Crowley, Louisiana, and a graduate of Sophie Newcomb College and Tulane Law; she was undoubtedly a significant influence in the Senator’s thinking on this bill, the care that went into the details.

Speaking of care, we also want to call attention to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that President Obama signed on April 21. This act increased funding (about $6 billion over the next five years) and will triple membership in national service programs from about 75,000 to about 350,000 part-time service volunteers. Among the many worthy ventures funded by this act is the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps, profiled here earlier this year. Levees Not War has long advocated a Civilian Conservation Corps–type body of “paid volunteers” to help with the massive efforts needed to restore the coastal wetlands of Louisiana. (See our review of WPA projects in Louisiana and Nick Taylor’s American-Made here.)

“Hope Through Action”

We want more senators—more leaders and activists everywhere, in all walks of life—who think big, whose conceptions of problems and solutions are broad, deep, long-lasting. Multidimensional. Senator Kennedy’s conceptions of solutions to social problems and predicaments were multidimensional because he saw in terms of the human needs, such as for education, good health, and safe housing. Provide for these basics and people can flourish. We are particularly saddened by his death because in Senator Kennedy our nation has lost a courageous champion of the social contract, which could be described as the idea that people from everywhere in a society have something to contribute as well as obligations, and that those who have greater advantages strengthen the nation and society when they share with the less fortunate to help the weak grow stronger. “You’re on your own” is not the meaning of E pluribus unum.

So, as we mourn the loss of this inspiring, courageous man (who, like everyone else, was not flawless), and as we reflect on the rich legacy of programs and public works he leaves us to enjoy, let us also think of what each of us can do to be more like him, and let us press on and do the work, bit by bit, that he would want us to do, with relish. Each of us has a role to play, and we can honor the greatest senator of our time by dreaming big and working on as broad a scale as we have imagination to conceive and energy to carry out.

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