Public Policy Response to Hurricane Katrina

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As the Gulf States begin the massive task of reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, the nation is actively engaged in a dialogue concerning the lessons learned from this catastrophe, and the best options moving forward. Many are asking whether the aid package and policies proposed by President Bush are the right approach to rebuilding and restoring the region. While the hurricane shines a much needed spotlight on a number of societal issues, it is crucial that programs initiated in the storm¡¦s aftermath have the desired effect¡Xnot just regionally, but on a national scale. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina has raised other, more general public policy issues about emergency management, environmental policy, poverty, and unemployment. The discussion of both the immediate response and of the broader public policy issues may affect elections and legislation enacted at various levels of government.

Others have noted the growing evidence that the increase in recent years in the frequency of such mega-hurricanes as Katrina is a result of global warming. A checklist of environmental policy failures must also include the administration¡¦s head-in-the-sand approach to global warming. The Bush administration has aggressively undermined international efforts to forcefully address such potentially catastrophic changes in the world¡¦s climate as a result of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and other industrialized nations. It is impossible to say whether even a responsible approach to climate change would have dampened Katrina¡¦s fury. But the fact remains that scientists believe global warming will make future hurricanes more severe. The president¡¦s policy of blocking meaningful efforts to reduce global warming emissions no doubt means that future storms will do greater damage than they would otherwise. Besides contributing to global warming, our reliance on fossil fuels also invites the sort of disruptions in energy supplies felt across the nation after Katrina. Congress and the president have gone out of their way to reject energy efficiency legislation that would save money, make industries more competitive, and prevent pollution. Instead, the federal government offers tax incentives to wealthy oil companies to drill for more oil, and works to open up public lands to their drills. The apparent objective is to keep supplies ample and pump prices low, but nobody I know who¡¦s been to a gas station lately would say that is working. The various pollutants circulated around the city of New Orleans by floodwaters also provide damning evidence of bad policy and bad enforcement. These pollutants include oil spilled from above-ground tanks; fuel and chemicals from leaking underground tanks; sewage from flooded treatment plants; and toxic chemicals washed into flood waters from flooded buildings, lagoons, lots and individual containers. In an area subject to flooding ¡V as we all knew New Orleans was ¡V the neglect of these hazards is inexcusable. Toxic waste from three separate Superfund sites is another ingredient in the toxic roux that flooded New Orleans. These sites should never have been allowed to become toxic, and once they were identified, they should have been cleaned to avoid exactly the outcome Katrina wrought. Of course, that was rendered nearly impossible by Congress and the president¡¦s refusal to adequately fund Superfund. A tax on polluters expired in 1995; the Clinton administration was unable to push an extension through Congress; and the Bush administration adamantly refuses to burden polluting industries with any part of the bill for their messes. Health and Housing

Katrina has created a health care crisis of unimaginable proportions. Survivors have acute health care problems ¡V such as injuries that are directly related to the storm and flood ¡V as well as chronic conditions that need immediate care and long-term...
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