The Government and Natural Disasters

September 3, 2012

Industrial Canal Patience and Passion Sign

(C) Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The Republican Party held its 2012 convention while simultaneously Hurricane Isaac inundated the Gulf Coast with torrential rain.  As Isaac was such a slow-moving storm, some areas of the coast received upwards of two feet of rain.  When combined with the storm surge, this amount of water led to flooding in many areas that previous storms had not flooded.

The sea walls and levees around the city of New Orleans appear to have done their job.  The feds had spent $14 billion dollars reinforcing and upgrading these protective measures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.  However, areas outside of the city that did not have the levee system upgraded, such as Plaquemines Parish, experienced heavy flooding.  In fact, concern has been raised that these improved levees may have contributed to the flooding in other parishes, such as Plaquemines and St. John the Baptist.  It appears that issues with funding and disagreements among governmental officials  resulted in the lack of upgrades to these flood-protection systems.  It is also important to remember that parts of Mississippi received extensive damage as well; damage that is often overshadowed by the concern for, and coverage of, New Orleans.  For all along the Gulf Coast it was a cruel irony to have had Hurricane Isaac come ashore on the anniversary of Katrina.

This is not meant to be a partisan post, and, quite frankly, partisanship really should not play a role in disaster relief.  (When a paragraph starts with a sentence like that, you know a contradiction is coming.)  It is worth noting that the Republican Party attempted to cut the budget for both FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  With a $16 trillion-dollar deficit, on what the government spends money is an issue.  With such a deficit, tax policy (the raising of revenue) and expenditures (the disbursement of funds for programs) becomes the political fodder for campaign promises made.  The Republican and Democratic parties have very different views on these issues and the electorate has to figure out on which side we stand come November.

One example of this is Grover Norquist’s “Pledge” that the majority of Republicans have signed stating that they will not vote for any new taxes ever-about which much has been reported and written.  60 Minutes just ran a program about Mr. Norquist and the pledge last weekend.  Full disclosure:  I am not an economist and do not have a good grasp on much of the technicalities of such a voluminous issue as the federal budget.  However, it does appear that if no taxes are to be raised ever, then the only way to reduce the federal deficit is through cuts to programs.  Wh0 pays what taxes and which programs are to be cut and which are to be funded and at what level gets to the heart of the role of a federal government. And there certainly are arguments to be made about such allocations.  

However, in the context of natural disasters like Hurricane Isaac, the issue is this:  who or what is responsible for providing disaster relief in the face of such storms?  Who or what is responsible for the infrastructure needed to prevent such damage in the first place?  Governor Bobby Jindal (R) of Louisiana requested more disaster relief from the federal government to deal with the destruction left by Hurricane Isaac.  If such funds were not avaliable due to budget cuts, what would Louisiana, or Mississippi, or for that matter, any of the states that get whacked by the record level of  tornadoes last year, do? What about the more than 1,200 counties in the United States that have been identified as drought disasters thus far in 2012?  

The issue of climate change is at the core of this issue, and here, too, is a political difference.  Presidential Nominee Romney has gone back and forth on his view of climate change and is for the Keystone XL pipeline project.  President Obama has acknowledged that the planet is warming, and has been criticized for his general lack of fulfilling his campaign promises to address climate change as a national issue and has put off a decision about Keystone.  This blog contains many posts about climate change and so nothing more specifically will be said on this issue here, except for the following:  1.  The summer of 2012 has been extremely hot, and 2.  If the United States is not committed to making the cultural changes necessary to reduce climate change, and we are unwilling to create a system wherein there is equal participation in revenue generation along with a more balanced approach to expenditures, who, or what, will be available to create proactive and reactive measures to address the increasing likelihood of natural disasters as the climate continues to warm?

Take care.

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