Swamps Versus People

Protecting the environment is an important part of conservatism. Who but the most blinkered and unimaginative ideologue would be indifferent to the destruction of wildlife, endangered species, and unique scenic landscapes. But conservatives also believe that nature has a hierarchy, and that our protection of the environment ultimately is a duty to ourselves, God, and future generations.

Conservatives believe that the life of a snail darter cannot take priority over the life of a human being, and, less dramatically, that our economic well being will sometimes trump environmental concerns. But the environmental movement has long rejected this human-centered environmentalism, in some cases considering human beings the chief enemy of their environmental goals. These fouled-up priorities had something to do with the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.

Anyone who has read the various public interest lawsuits on behalf of endangered species, habitat protection, and the like knows that environmental groups vigorously oppose any proposals to balance environmental policies with human needs. If it hurts some obscure species or the wetlands (i.e., swamps), a project should ipso facto be rejected in this view. One of these "public interest" lawsuits in the 1970s apparently prevented the building of floodgates that would have stopped waters from the Gulf of Mexico from overwhelming New Orleans' levees, as reported today:

As radical environmentalists continue to blame the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina's devastation on President Bush's ecological policies, a mainstream Louisiana media outlet inadvertently disclosed a shocking fact: Environmentalist activists were responsible for spiking a plan that may have saved New Orleans. Decades ago, the Green Left--pursuing its agenda of valuing wetlands and topographical "diversity" over human life--sued to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from building floodgates that would have prevented significant flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.

In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Barrier Project planned to build fortifications at two strategic locations, which would keep massive storms on the Gulf of Mexico from causing Lake Pontchartrain to flood the city. An article in the May 28, 2005, New Orleans Times-Picayune stated, "Under the original plan, floodgate-type structures would have been built at the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes to block storm surges from moving from the Gulf into Lake Pontchartrain."

"The floodgates would have blocked the flow of water from the Gulf of Mexico, through Lake Borgne, through the Rigolets [and Chef Mentuer] into Lake Pontchartrain," declared Professor Gregory Stone, the James P. Morgan Distinguished Professor and Director of the Coastal Studies Institute of Louisiana State University. "This would likely have reduced storm surge coming from the Gulf and into the Lake Pontchartrain," Professor Stone told Michael P. Tremoglie during an interview on September 6. The professor concluded, "[T]hese floodgates would have alleviated the flooding of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina." . . . .

Why was this project aborted? As the Times-Picayune wrote, "Those plans were abandoned after environmental advocates successfully sued to stop the projects as too damaging to the wetlands and the lake's eco-system." (Emphasis added.) Specifically, in 1977, a state environmentalist group known as Save Our Wetlands (SOWL) sued to have it stopped. SOWL stated the proposed Rigolets and Chef Menteur floodgates of the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Prevention Project would have a negative effect on the area surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Further, SOWL's recollection of this case demonstrates they considered this move the first step in a perfidious design to drain Lake Pontchartrain entirely and open the area to dreaded capitalist investment.

I thought until reading this article that the Corps of Engineers bore significant responsibility for this debacle; after all, they are responsible for building, maintaining, and making recommendations regarding the levees. And they had some (apparent) freedom of action to do this in spite of the obstacles of New Orleans' Byzantine power structure. But it seems in the wake of this environmental challenge--likely one of many--they attained a kind of learned helplessness. Extreme environmental groups, by advocating civilization-destroying C02 reduction, have shown repeatedly that they will always put abstract environmental goals ahead of people. They have also shown that any significant project by the government or the private sector could potentially be stopped through expensive environmental litigation about non-human interests, such as endangered species and wetlands protection.

This time their approach caused a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Posted by at September 8, 2005 11:33 AM