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Highlights from “The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever” in The New York Times Magazine

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Whitehall Canal, in the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary.Jeff Riedel@NYT“The idea of making the industry live up to its legal responsibility is not going to die.”John M. Barry

Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 6, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story titled “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever.” Aside from the cover of Time, a story does not get much more prominent coverage than a cover article in the magazine of The New York Times. Nathaniel Rich, who has written intelligently and sensitively about New Orleans (see here and here), now gives an overview of the environmental reasons why the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East (SLFPA-E) last July filed a suit against nearly 100 oil and gas corporations for failing to honor the terms of their licenses to do business in the wetlands of Louisiana and have caused catastrophic environmental damage to the state’s land. Rich also profiles the leader of that lawsuit, author and environmental activist John M. Barry, who was until recently the vice president of SLFPA-E, and the unprecedented efforts of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, with the help of compliant or fearful legislators, to kill the lawsuit in the state legislature rather than let it work its way through the courts.

Read All About It—And Restore Louisiana Now

Following are some highlights from “Waterworld.” We hope you will forward this post, or the article itself, and also check out John Barry’s new foundation, Restore Louisiana Now. We also urge you to join us in pressing the Jindal administration and the Louisiana state representatives to support efforts to make the oil and gas industry pay for the damage it has done and to restore the critical wetlands that act as a buffer against hurricane storm surge. Scientists say about every 2.5 square miles of wetlands absorbs a foot of storm surge. The oil and gas industry has already conceded responsibility for 36 percent of land loss—but they have not paid for damages. Jindal’s plan, apparently, is to let industry off the hook and to let the Coastal Master Plan for restoration to fall on the taxpayers—a curious position for an anti-tax politician.

This politically ambitious governor, who imagines he has a chance at becoming president of the United States, continues in his efforts to bend the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East (intended to be politically independent) to his will. The lawsuit’s attorney has requested that a federal judge rule on the constitutionality of a controversial bill, pushed for and eagerly signed by Jindal, that would kill the lawsuit. The judge will hear that motion, along with motions filed by oil companies to dismiss the suit, on Nov. 12.

From “Waterworld: The Most Ambitious Environmental Lawsuit Ever”

Each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. Each day, the state loses nearly the accumulated acreage of every football stadium in the N.F.L. Were this rate of land loss applied to New York, Central Park would disappear in a month. Manhattan would vanish within a year and a half. The last of Brooklyn would dissolve four years later. New Yorkers would notice this kind of land loss. The world would notice this kind of land loss. But the hemorrhaging of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has gone largely unremarked upon beyond state borders. This is surprising, because the wetlands, apart from their unique ecological significance and astounding beauty, buffer the impact of hurricanes that threaten not just New Orleans but also the port of South Louisiana, the nation’s largest; just under 10 percent of the country’s oil reserves; a quarter of its natural-gas supply; a fifth of its oil-refining capacity; and the gateway to its internal waterway system. The attenuation of Louisiana, like any environmental disaster carried beyond a certain point, is a national-security threat.

Canals dredged by the energy industry south of Lafitte.The land loss is swiftly reversing the process by which the state was built. As the Mississippi shifted its course over the millenniums, spraying like a loose garden hose, it deposited sand and silt in a wide arc. This sediment first settled into marsh and later thickened into solid land. But what took 7,000 years to create has been nearly destroyed in the last 85. . . .

Beneath the surface, the oil and gas industry has carved more than 50,000 wells since the 1920s, creating pockets of air in the marsh that accelerate the land’s subsidence. The industry has also incised 10,000 linear miles of pipelines, which connect the wells to processing facilities; and canals, which allow ships to enter the marsh from the sea. Over time, as seawater eats away at the roots of the adjacent marsh, the canals expand. By its own estimate, the oil and gas industry concedes that it has caused 36 percent of all wetlands loss in southeastern Louisiana. . . .

A better analogy than disappearing football fields has been proposed by the historian John M. Barry, who has lived in the French Quarter on and off since 1972. Barry likens the marsh to a block of ice. The reduction of sediment in the Mississippi, the construction of levees and the oil and gas wells “created a situation akin to taking the block of ice out of the freezer, so it begins to melt.” Dredging canals and pipelines “is akin to stabbing that block of ice with an ice pick.”

The oil and gas industry has extracted about $470 billion in natural resources from the state in the last two decades, with the tacit blessing of the federal and state governments and without significant opposition from environmental groups. Oil and gas is, after all, Louisiana’s leading industry, responsible for around a billion dollars in annual tax revenue. Last year, industry executives had reason to be surprised, then, when they were asked to pay damages. The request came in the form of the most ambitious, wide-ranging environmental lawsuit in the history of the United States. . . .

When John Barry met with Congressman Bobby Jindal (2006): In Washington, where Barry lives for part of the year, he met with a freshman representative from the state’s First Congressional District, which includes much of southeastern Louisiana: Bobby Jindal. He begged Jindal to demand action from the White House [following Hurricane Katrina]. New Orleans couldn’t count on its mayor, or on the governor, he said; the city needed a hero on Capitol Hill. After speaking for two hours, Barry recalled, Jindal said that taking a leadership position on Hurricane Katrina “didn’t fit his timing for running for governor.” (Jindal, who declined to comment for this article, was elected governor in 2007.) “I left in total disgust,” Barry said. . . .

The state did have a plan in place to rebuild the barrier islands and coastal wetlands. Originally published in 2007 and revised in 2012, the so-called Coastal Master Plan was endorsed by scientists, as well as the oil and gas industry. . . . The state, however, had not figured out how it was going to finance the Coastal Master Plan. The main source of funding would be the settlement from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil-spill lawsuits, which is expected to be as much as $20 billion. That would leave about $30 billion.

Barry believed that other oil and gas companies should also contribute. His argument was simple: Because the industry conceded responsibility for 36 percent of land loss, it should pay its part: $18 billion would be a start.

near Myrtle Grove, La.[Barry] knew that nearly every company that has operated in the marshes since the 1920s has used permits obliging them to maintain and repair any environmental damage it caused. In 1980, Louisiana began adhering to a federal law that required companies operating in the marsh—a list that includes ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, BP, Chevron and Koch Industries—to restore “as near as practicable to their original condition” any canals they dredge. After consulting with legal experts, Barry became convinced that most companies never filled in their canals and that the state had failed to enforce the law. In fact, many of the projects listed in the Coastal Master Plan called for plugging canals that should have been restored years ago. . . .

“Louisianians who make money in oil buy politicians, or pieces of politicians, as Kentuckians in the same happy situation buy racehorses. Oil gets into politics, and politicians, making money in office, get into oil. The state slithers around it.” These sentences, written by A. J. Liebling in 1960 at the dawn of the deep-water offshore-drilling era, seem quaint when read today. Louisiana no longer slithers in oil; it drowns in it. It is also high on natural gas, thanks to the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing. And at some point along the way, the state, which has the oil and gas, ceded political control to the industry, which needs the oil and gas. . . .

One peculiarity about the fight over the lawsuit is that few industries are in greater need of coastal restoration than oil and gas. The next major hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast will put at risk billions of dollars of industry infrastructure—refineries, oil tanks, terminals and pipelines. This is why the industry endorsed the Coastal Master Plan. A second oddity is that Jindal, a hero of the anti-tax faction of the national Republican Party, who last year tried to eliminate the state’s corporate and income taxes, has now put himself in the position of allowing the largest single bill facing his state—for the balance of the Coastal Master Plan—to fall almost entirely upon taxpayers.

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Check out Restore Louisiana Now, and see the video  from the Coastal Conservation Conversation held at Loyola University on August 20 (highlights video clips here). Thanks to Ms. Anne Mueller of The Lens, a major sponsor of the Conversation.

Also, see Nathaniel Rich’s new piece in The New Republic, “Louisiana Has a Wild Plan to Save Itself from Global Warming (too bad the state is being destroyed from within),” and his review of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street: A History and Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital for The New York Review of Books, “The Heart of New Orleans.”

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Land Loss in 1984 compared with 2014

1984–2014

 

Map source: Jamon Van Den Hoek, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Map note: Land areas are derived from Landsat imagery. Photographs by Jeff Riedel for The New York Times.

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House Democrats Demand to Know Why GOP Govs Rejected Medicaid Expansion

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

elijah-cummings.TimSloan-GettyImagesShow Us Why You’re Keeping Your People Poor and Sick

“In order to better understand the basis for your opposition, I request that you provide . . . copies of any state-specific analyses, studies, or reports that you ordered, requested or relied on to inform your decision.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, letter to GOP governors, July 29, 2014

In a rare and delightful display of Democratic vitality and imagination, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md., above), has sent requests to six Republican governors to provide documentation to justify their decisions to reject—or to accept—federal funding that does, or would, enable expansion of Medicaid coverage under  the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Three governors spurned the money, and three  accepted.

Talking Points Memo reports that Cummings sent letters to governors Rick Perry of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida, and Pat McCrory of North Carolina, each of whom turned down millions in available federal money that would have helped thousands of low-income people in their states have access to health care (individuals with incomes up to $14,856, and families of four with incomes up to $30,657; see graphic below). The three Republican governors who have accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion are Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio, and Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A press release on the House Oversight Committee’s website explains, “Under the Affordable Care Act, Congress pays 100% of costs to expand Medicaid for the first three years, declining gradually to 90% by 2020, with states paying only 10% of these costs. Democratic governors have consistently supported expanding Medicaid, but Republican governors have disagreed among themselves, with widely differing explanations.”  

The press release adds:

At a national level, if the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid were to do so today, they would provide healthcare services to an additional 5.69 million people in 2016, receive an additional $423 billion in federal funds for their state budgets through 2022, and help create an additional 734,000 jobs through 2017.  

Let’s Ask Bobby Jindal

JindalYesterday Levees Not War phoned Cummings’s office (202-225-4741) to request that the congressman also demand answers from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, who frequently boasts of turning down federal funding with the air of teetotaler virtuously abstaining from alcohol. In 2009, Jindal spurned nearly $100 million that would have aided some 25,000 unemployed Louisianians through the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “stimulus” bill of early 2009.

That was just the start of Jindal’s rejecting of funds that would help Louisiana. When he attacked Obama in October 2012 for not waiving a federal 25% local matching requirement for emergency disaster assistance after Hurricane Isaac, Senator Mary Landrieu (D–La.) had had enough:

“The governor can’t have it both ways. He cannot complain about the federal government being stingy when he turned away $80 million in broadband for rural communities, $300 million in high-speed rail for urban areas and $60 million in early childhood education for all Louisiana’s children.”

Readers who want to ask Jindal’s office directly can call 225-342-7015 or (toll-free) 866-366-1121; fax 225-342-7099, or e-mail him here.

Remember “Country First” in the presidential campaign of 2008? It turns out that, for the party that used it, it was only a campaign slogan. We knew that at the time—we just didn’t anticipate to what extremes the cynicism would stretch.

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See also:

Jindal: From Rising Star to Black Hole (LNW, 2/25/09)

Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition (LNW, 2/20/09)

Republicans Against Medicare: A Long, Mean History (LNW, 10/15/12)

Think Progress: Bobby Jindal’s Obamacare Replacement Could Kick Millions Off Their Insurance Plans

More about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) at Levees Not War

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Check out The Commonwealth Fund to learn more about how the Affordable Care Act is working.

The Commonwealth Fund: Implementing the Affordable Care Act: State Action on Quality Improvement in State-Based Marketplaces

Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Photo credits: Elijah Cummings by Tim Sloan/Getty Images; Bobby Jindal by Tim Mueller for The New York Times. Graphic by The Commonwealth Fund.

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7 Million Cheers for ‘Obamacare’

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

more than 7 millionPublic Health, Too, Is ‘National Security’

Congratulation to President Obama, the White House, and the courageous Democrats in Congress who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the most ambitious expansion of health care for Americans since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

After the March 31 deadline for enrollments, President Obama announced that the goal of 7 million by April 1 has been met—and more: some 7.1 million previously uninsured Americans have signed up for coverage. And the numbers will rise because those who were not able to finish signing up by midnight Monday will have another two weeks to complete their registration. (Go to Healthcare.gov to learn more.)

So, congratulations to the elected officials and policy makers, and “best of health” to the American people—those who are now covered, and especially to those who do not yet have health insurance.

Let’s look briefly at some numbers. According to The New Yorker:

Three million young people remain on their parents’ health-care plans; more than eight million uninsured people are eligible for Medicaid; and, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than a hundred million people have received preventive-care services, like mammograms and flu shots, at no cost.

ObamacareWhat Does Obamacare Do for You?

Per “The Affordable Care Act by the Numbers” at WhiteHouse.gov (2012):

Click here for more benefits.

The present system of Medicare and Medicaid was signed into law in 1965 by Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson. As Jeffrey Toobin explains in The New Yorker:

Medicare, providing health insurance for all Americans over the age of sixty-five, proved popular almost immediately: after the rollout, about nineteen million people signed up, more than ninety per cent of those eligible. Medicaid, covering the poor of all ages, is financed jointly by the federal government and the states. The first year, only twenty-six states agreed to participate, and the program didn’t include all fifty until 1982, when Arizona, the final holdout, joined.

Conservative opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been principally directed at the Medicaid aspects that are mainly tailored to the very poor: “Ideas such as the requirement that everyone obtain insurance, with subsidies for people who can’t afford it; the mandate that insurance companies offer coverage to all comers; and the incentives for states to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid have meant political war,” as Toobin explains.

Steven Benen at The Maddow Blog points out that “the single biggest hindrance to expanding coverage to the uninsured is Republican governors in red states blocking Medicaid expansion. That’s not conjecture; it’s what the CBO has already documented.” Benen wrote last August:

The Affordable Care Act originally made Medicaid expansion mandatory for states, guaranteeing coverage for millions, but a narrow Supreme Court majority ruled that it must be optional – if states want to take advantage of an amazing deal they could, but if they choose to turn down the federal money, Washington can’t force them to accept it. 

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Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Honoré Speaks for La. Flood Protection Authority Lawsuit Against Big Oil

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

 

FixTheCoastYouBroke“Put our coast back like you found it”

Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, the keynote speaker for this coming weekend’s Rising Tide conference in New Orleans, has added a further distinction to his already impressive curriculum vitae: He adds his voice to a full-page advertisement published in the Times-Picayune, paid for by Levees.org and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in support of the historic lawsuit filed July 24 in civil district court in Orleans Parish by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East against some 100 oil and energy companies active in Louisiana.

In the ad, Honoré, a native of Pointe Coupee Parish, says:

I wish we could count on our government officials to hold the oil companies resposible. But after more than 100 years of oil operations in our state, our governors and legislators have failed to hold the oil companies accountable. As citizens, the only recourse, you and I have left is the courts. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East has filed suit against 97 oil companies. The law suit is just asking them to do what our mothers told us growing up: “If you make a mess, you clean it up.”

Honoreleadership

“I don’t do politics,” Honoré said in an interview Monday quoted by InsuranceJournal.com. “But I do believe in environmental justice.”

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East has been under intense pressure from Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal to drop the lawsuit, even though the Authority was authorized to proceed with the suit by Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell. Jindal, who has received some $1 million in donations from oil and energy interests, called the lawsuit “nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers.”

An August 31 feature in The New York Times focused on the lawsuit and the political force being pressed upon SLFPA-E, including its vice president, John M. Barry, historian and author of Rising Tide, a bestselling book on the great Mississippi River flood of 1927.

Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal said that Lt. Gen. Honoré was not compensated in any way for the ad or for his support of the lawsuit.

Read All About It: For more about the lawsuit, see our post “Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands” (7/25/13) and read the New York Times article “Facing Fire Over Challenge to Louisiana’s Oil Industry” (8/31/13).

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The photograph below was taken by our friend Jeffrey of Library Chronicles. Thanks to Jeff for the tip.

 

Honore_ad

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Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Begin here, President Obama: Create jobs by approving all G.O.P. requests for stimulus funds.

Here’s the best new idea we’ve heard in a long time (h/t to Rachel Maddow): When HuffPo’s Sam Stein reported that “Michele Bachmann Repeatedly Sought Stimulus, EPA, Other Government Funds,” Steve Benen of Washington Monthly thought of something politically savvy that could jump-start new job creation:

How about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?

Here’s the pitch: have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he’ll gladly fund all of the Republicans’ requests that have not yet been filled.

This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas. When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”

So, how about it? If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?

Steve Benen, this is brilliant. It could work.

Never Mind the Hypocrisy—Just Get It Started.

What Sam Stein found through a Freedom of Information Act request for federal records was that Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who poses as a fiscal conservative and has publicly denounced the “orgy” of federal spending and called the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “fantasy economics,” has asked the federal government for financial help for her district on at least 16 occasions. Well, we can’t blame her: she knows that federal spending does create jobs by funding projects to build roads and bridges, hire teachers and police officers, and so on. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal (above) knows it, too. 

Steve Benen’s bright idea—and we should all push the White House (202-456-1111; comments@whitehouse.gov) and Congress to put this into action immediately—is to approve all the requests by congressional Republicans for federal funding of projects in their districts. Never mind the hypocrisy. This should come very easily to this president, who can’t seem to say no to Republicans anyway.

Obama should call in the press as he approves the projects in batches, day after day. He can use a big rubber stamp and say, “Yes to Republican Representative Bachmann who asked for funding for the Trunk Highway 36 bridge project over the St. Croix River to produce 1,400 new jobs. Approved. Yes to Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who asked for stimulus money for an ethanol plant to create 750 jobs. Approved . . .” And then, after illustrating the point day after day, move on to approve Democrats’ requests.

[ Click for PDFs of letters from Republican members of Congress citing job creation in requests for stimulus funds for their districts (Bachmann, Sessions, Moran). ]

‘S’ Is for Stimulus—But Call It Whatever You Want

On the Rachel Maddow Show, Steve Benen said that it doesn’t matter whether we use the term “stimulus” or “jobs program,” which Republicans hate, or whatever. Just do it.

If this is a list that Republicans came up with, saying these are things that they believe will create jobs in their own communities, their own districts, their own states, then at a minimum, if Democrats want to make these investments and create jobs, then just start here. Now, one might say, well, at that point, you might look at job opportunities in blue districts and blue states. but fine, we can get to that later. If we just want to . . . inject capital into the system, create jobs right away, we want to create demand in this economy, we can start with the list Republicans came up with and make an immediate difference. . . .

[Bachmann] is one of many who have requested public funds . . . but then publicly rail against public spending. . . . So, to a certain extent, she’s not unique. But at the same time, she is uniquely brazen. She . . . requested funding from the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, for her district despite the fact that she doesn’t believe the EPA should even exist, and she actually wants to eliminate the agency altogether. And so, . . . trying to communicate to Republicans the importance of these kinds of projects, Democrats are in a position to say, well, [if] even Michele Bachmann believes that all this public spending can create jobs and help the economy, then other Republicans can certainly go along because she’s to their right.

Don’t Wait for Congress to Act, Mr. President. FDR Established the WPA by Executive Order, Employed 8.5+ Million.

As we wrote to President Obama (and to Democratic members of Congress in similar letters) during the debt ceiling crisis in July:

The millions who voted for you are begging you to address the nation’s real crisis and launch an ambitious WPA-style jobs program and lower the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 55. That would restore public and investor confidence, and would invigorate this lame, sucking economy. If tax rates were fair, this wealthy nation could afford it. You could help make it happen. 

Your reelection would be less in doubt if you gave America’s 15+ million unemployed and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure a comprehensive WPA-style jobs program at least 10 times as aggressive as the ARRA stimulus: public works, transportation (not just high-speed rail), public housing, environmental conservation (think CCC), schools, hospitals. Franklin Roosevelt didn’t wait for Congress: he established the WPA in 1935 by executive order. You could do the same.

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See “After Voting to Kill Recovery, 110 GOP Lawmakers Tout Its Success, Ask for More Money” •  “Freshman Republicans Lobby Federal Agencies for Millions Amid Spending Critiques” • “Stimulating Hypocrisy: Scores of Recovery Act Opponents Sought Money Out of Public View” • “Jindal Tours Louisiana Attacking ‘Washington Spending’ While Handing Out Jumbo-Sized Stimulus Checks” •  More links at Crooks and Liars’s coverage of The Rachel Maddow Show’s “They’re Not Embarrassed” • “They’re Not Embarrassed” video link

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New Orleans Is Most Likely Safe from River Flooding

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

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There’s a certain trepidation in writing that headline, but . . .

Despite over $2 billion in damages, possibly to reach $4 billion from the Mississippi River Flood of 2011, including dramatic flooding upriver around Cairo, Memphis, and Vicksburg—and despite scary images and headlines on screen and paper—the city of New Orleans should be safe from inundation from the historically high waters now coursing down the Mississippi toward the Gulf. The flooding is the result of normal springtime snowmelt compounded by record rainfall from two major storm systems across the U.S. during April. (See Mississippi River watershed map below; click to enlarge.)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already begun opening the Bonnet Carré spillway upriver from the city (photo below). There will be flooding in the Atchafalaya Basin—possibly around 3 million acres—once water is diverted from the Morganza Spillway, a decision that is expected soon from the Corps of Engineers. And deep-draft shipping may be temporarily suspended by the U.S. Coast Guard if water levels rise to just a little higher than they are now; Americans “upriver” may experience a spike in gas prices as supplies are temporarily interrupted by the halting of oil tanker traffic between Baton Rouge and the Gulf.

Read the Headlines with Some Skepticism

Under the ominous headline “Mississippi River Flooding in New Orleans Area Could Be Massive if Morganza Spillway Stays Closed,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported on Wednesday that based upon the best information available from the Corps of Engineers, the staggering volume of water making its way down the Mississippi could cause “levee failures and massive inundation of metro New Orleans, worse than Hurricane Katrina, if the Morganza spillway is not opened to divert river water down the Atchafalaya basin. The bad news for people living along the Atchafalaya: the Corps of Engineers predicts they will flood in either case.” Although the article itself was measured, not alarmist, the headline implied there was a possibility that the Corps might decide not to open the Morganza Spillway. Another headline warned, “Corps Officials Fear Flooding.” Note to the reader: It is the Corps’ job to fear flooding and to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Now, reporters don’t write the headlines, and the body of an article is often less alarming than the headline crafted by some news editor. But “Flooding Could Be Massive” sort of got our attention, so we checked around.

An engineer friend in the New Orleans area who knows people at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the Corps is monitoring the situation very closely all along the river, per established protocol, and just waiting for Major General Michael Walsh to give the word about opening the Morganza Spillway. Major General Walsh is president of the Mississippi River Commission and commander of all USACE districts along the river. Times-Picayune environmental reporter Mark Schleifstein writes that General Walsh is expected to announce his decision to open the Morganza spillway between Friday and Tuesday (May 13 and 17).

Our engineer friend says, “Walsh is going to wait until the last possible moment to give the order just in case something changes in the river or they [the Corps] discover a better alternative. And when I say, ‘last possible moment,’ that is taking into account the timeline between when the order is given and everything that has to happen to safely open the structure. This stuff is really well thought out. The hydraulics, structures and levee engineers there have been working this 7 days a week for the past two weeks. . . . New Orleans is safe for now. Never say never, but we have no reason to panic as of right now.”

[ Click here for City of New Orleans Emergency Preparedness / Flood Fight information ]

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Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed a “guns-in-church” bill sponsored by Louisiana state representative Henry Burns that will authorize individuals who qualify to carry concealed weapons in “any church, synagogue, or mosque, or other similar place of worship.” The Times-Picayune reports that the bill “would authorize persons who qualified to carry concealed weapons having passed the training and background checks.” The pastor, rabbi, imam, or other head of the house of worship “must announce verbally or in weekly newsletters or bulletins that there will be individuals armed on the property as members of the security force.” (How many rabbis and imams in Louisiana are likely to exercise this option?) Rep. Burns said he proposed the bill so that houses of worship in “declining neighborhoods” can have extra protection against crime. “I was born and raised with Mayberry, riding my bicycle any time of the day or night,” said Burns. “But we live in different times.”

Think Progress notes that last year a pastor in Kentucky invited his congregants to bring their firearms to church. “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” said Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

The Guns of Academe?

Nor need colleges be pacifist institutions: in 2009 Louisiana state Rep. Ernest Wooton (R) of Belle Chasse proposed a bill that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses, but that measure did not pass (this time). “It is not a gun bill,” explained Wooton, “it is a rights bill.” He may have a point. We admit, we can think of a few papers that might have been delivered in a more timely manner had the professors been packing heat . . .

Now, thanks to Rep. Henry Burns and the governor, Mr. Wooton can bring his gun to church and pray for passage of his guns-on-campus bill.

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“Something Called ‘Volcano Monitoring’ ”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

“[The Democrats’ stimulus] legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes . . . $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” —Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, Feb. 24, 2009

Remember Bobby Jindal’s celebrated response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009? It included some, uh, noteworthy moments, not the least of which was his sneer at such “wasteful spending” as “something called ‘volcano monitoring.’” Some speechwriter was probably pleased with that line, but this was a contemptuous display of ignorance on the level of Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculing “community organizer—what’s that?” (6:08) at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and just as deserving of a reality-based comeuppance. The $140 million for the U.S. Geological Survey was partly intended to provide warnings of impending volcanic eruptions in the U.S. and around the world where American military bases are located. The Americans at Ramstein Air Base in Germany probably appreciate that monitoring equipment right about now.

With international air traffic to Europe disrupted for a second straight day following a massive volcano eruption in Iceland (some 17,000 flights were canceled Friday), we have to use the occasion to poke this over-ambitious governor in the eye and say: “Now do you get it?” Jindal the boy genius used to be respected for his intelligence (Rhodes Scholar) and precocious grasp of complex policy, but those days are over. He is not serving his state or the nation—and not his own career, either—by his know-nothing, anti-science statements and decisions. (See our earlier posts “Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition” and “From Rising Star to Black Hole.”)

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