Sunday, December 04, 2005

Katrina Free

Watching the local news and reading the daily newspaper in this city, it's hard to image thinking about anything else other than Katrina. We are a 24-hour-a-day Katrina obsessed community. Everything has gone Katrina-centric. It's almost as if the rest of the planet does not exist.

Watching one of the local news shows this week, I wondered how long it will be before there is a 30 minute broadcast that does not once make reference to Katrina. Three years? Five years? Longer?

When that day finally rolls around, it's either going to be a very good day when the "new normal" has finally taken root, or it's going to be some really really bad day when a new but devastating event will have taken over the headlines.

People ask what the city's like three months and five days after the levees broke. There's no simple answer to that. Parts of it look better than you would expect. Other parts are worse. Lately, the fullest picture on the recent state of the city has come in an article from the BBC.

Today the AP wire published an article about funding the rebuilding of the area. It gives those of us here in Katrina-landia a view of what people outside are thinking. It's not pretty. But some interesting points are made.

...It isn't fair that taxpayers in safer areas have to subsidize those who choose to live in more hazardous locales, said Veronique de Rugy, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

She warns that too much federal support for disaster victims will foster a sense of complacency. People will have no incentive to purchase flood insurance or hurricane-proof their homes if they believe that the federal government will step in and bail them out after a disaster.

"At some level it makes sense that the federal government should help, but there should be a lesson," de Rugy said. "People who have behaved in a completely irresponsible way by not taking any insurance should lose something." ....

The federal government has traditionally played an important role in rebuilding after disasters elsewhere. But there is some sentiment that the federal government has a unique responsibility to New Orleans and other communities on the lower Mississippi, because many of the things that make the region so vulnerable to hurricanes are the direct result of things Washington has done for the welfare of the country as a whole.

For example, the gigantic levees along the Mississippi, under federal control since 1879, have benefited farmers in the Upper Midwest by providing an economical means of exporting grain. But they also direct sediment that used to settle in the coastal wetlands of Louisiana out into the Gulf of Mexico. Without a regular supply of mud, the coastal wetlands have gradually been devoured by waves and rising sea levels.

The Louisiana coast has lost up to 40 square miles of marsh annually in recent decades. Because wetlands partially absorb storm surges, that has made southern Louisiana even more vulnerable to hurricanes.

Louisiana also provides the nation with oil and natural gas, which keeps the cost of those fuels down by limiting the amount that must be imported. But pipelines, drilling rigs and refineries take their toll on the local environment by damaging wetlands and causing pollution. In addition, pumping oil out of subterranean formations causes them to compress, which makes the ground sink even lower.

"Louisiana has sacrificed its coastline so those people in North Dakota can have fuel oil, so they can drive their vehicles," said Craig Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State University.

Several pieces of legislation have been submitted to Congress that would give Louisiana and other coastal states a cut of the federal tax revenue from offshore oil production. Under current rules Washington gives states half of the revenue it collects from drilling on federal lands, but that applies only to onshore oil wells. If the policy were extended to offshore production Louisiana could earn $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion annually.

"That provides a very appropriate source to pay for this," Kopplin said.

It's such an elegant solution, and one that the Louisiana Congressional delegation has been proposing for years.


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