Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Senator Boxer: Katrina Damage "Foreseeable"

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, held a field hearing in New Orleans Monday to examine how the federal government can more proactively move forward with helping Louisiana residents recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"There have been serious failures by our government, and we must learn from the past. But I want to focus on the future. We want to be constructive, and to see what we can do now," said Boxer, in the hearing's opening statement. "The levees and floodwalls should have protected the people of New Orleans . But they failed, unleashing a tragedy and a horror that was to some unimaginable, but in fact was foreseeable."

The California Senator took control of the panel in January from Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) -- who spent the majority of his time as the previous chair of the environmental committee denying the existence of global warming -- and was joined in New Orleans by six other Senators, including Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, both of Louisiana.

Boxer described arriving in the city on Sunday night and touring areas still devastated by the 2005 storm and seeing that much of the original damaged has gone without repair.

"The tragedy suffered by this region will be forever fixed in our minds," she said. "Although there are many signs of hope, much of the devastation from Katrina is still all too clear. A year and a half after the storms, a lot of work remains."

"As the new Chair of this Committee, I felt that it was important for our very first field hearing to be here in New Orleans . The critical issues we will address today — hurricane protection, wetlands restoration and management of the massive amounts of debris left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, are a top priority for this Committee."

Senator Boxer thanked Landrieu for pushing for the hearings as soon as the new Congress began and made it clear both by being in New Orleans and with her words that, after years as a rubber stamp for the White House, Congress is back in business.

"One thing I can assure you is that Congressional oversight of our government is back," said Boxer, who then noted that the Army Corps of Engineers comes under the purview of her committee. "When the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, or other federal agencies are doing something right, we will commend them. But when they are not doing their jobs, we want to know so the problem can be fixed—cooperatively, and in a bipartisan way."

At many times during the hearing, Boxer said that reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act would be a top priority for the committee this year -- the legislation was last authorized in 2000 and had languished under the last Republican-led Congress.

Discussing the importance of wetlands in protecting New Orleans from hurricanes, Boxer said that "We must commit ourselves to restoring Louisiana ’s natural hurricane protection system -- the wetlands."

"We know that when storms pass over warm, open Gulf waters, they strengthen. For centuries, the protective wetlands of the Louisiana coast blunted the force of countless storms, absorbing their energy and softening their impact. But those wetlands have been disappearing before our eyes. Today, Louisiana's coastal wetlands are only half as wide as they were 50 years ago. If we fail to restore Louisiana ’s disappearing wetlands, there will be no floodwall high enough, no levee big enough, and no pumps strong enough to protect this city and coast."

And Boxer reinforced that the new Congress is going to push for greater progress in New Orleans, saying "I want to assure all involved that we will stay focused on what needs to be done."

"This great American city, this beautiful state and region, continue to need our attention and will not be forgotten."