September 20, 2005

Katrina's next disaster

These are quotes quotes from a Lakeland Ledger editorial:

Most of the heavily polluted water from New Orleans and other storm-damaged areas will eventually find its way into the Gulf of Mexico. That water is heavily laden with all manner of heavy metals, chemical and petroleum spills, human waste and much more.

"Whatever goes into the northern Gulf ends up being carried by the Gulf Loop Current, which goes clockwise, spreading whatever is in those waters along the Gulf Coast of Florida," said Bill Byle, an environmental official with Charlotte County, to the Charlotte Sun Herald.

"Many chemicals, especially petroleums and persistent pesticides, remain `active' for many years. . . . If they end up on the beaches, marshes and bottoms of our estuaries, they could have serious, long-term impacts throughout the marine and estuarine food chains."

And while the Federal Emergency Management Agency has gotten its share of criticism for being slow to react to the immediate damage caused by Katrina, another federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, seems barely on the radar screen as the toxic effects of Katrina's floodwaters begin to be felt.

Indeed, the EPA wasn't even on the initial list of federal agencies assigned immediate response duties in the wake of Katrina. And although the EPA has since begun to test samples of polluted water in New Orleans and elsewhere, the agency is refusing to release the results of those tests.

Compounding all of this is the fact that adequate funding may not be available to begin cleaning up toxic waste sites created or made worse by Katrina. That's because a tax on chemical and oil industries that once provided funding for the Superfund program has been allowed to expire. Superfund is, these days, funded largely by tax dollars, and appropriations have been declining in real dollars since 1993.

It is foolish to believe that this disaster will end when New Orleans has been pumped dry and the task of rebuilding is well under way. "The initial damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is already done, and it's staggering," warns the National Environmental Trust. "The long-term effects of our nation's largest environmental disaster, however, will be determined by the clean-up and re-entry choices we make in the weeks and months ahead."

If the EPA fails to provide leadership and a plan of action to address Katrina's "toxic gumbo," the failures of FEMA may one day look like a minor dereliction of duty by comparison.

And if that's not scary enough... see these articles:

St Pete Times - "Lawmakers are still plotting to put oil rigs in Florida's side of the gulf, where damage from hurricanes could threaten the state's environment and economy."

Ft Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel - "Florida could bow to drilling: Fears of rising U.S. energy prices might break leaders' united front on the Gulf."

When Congress begins work next month on a large tax and budget bill, it might include a provision allowing drilling in part of the eastern Gulf.

Instead of being blocked by Florida lawmakers, as efforts have been for years, the proposal may well be drafted by three of them: Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala; Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla.And many of their GOP colleagues say they are willing to consider the idea.

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