Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend

Sept 21 - Oct 5, 2005
Issue #84

  ..Buffalo's Best Fiend
Why is it OK for the press to lie?
Allan Uthman

Banana Republicans
3rd World, US-style
Shawn Ewald

Drowning Reality
Truth not a Major Factor in New Orleans
Kit Smith
Of Pandas & Morons
Truth vs. Myth in PA
Jeff Dean
Star Wars
The Sequel & the Reality
Bob Fitrakis

Play the Blame Game!
Match the Stupid Quote!
Roberts Confirmation Maze

Buffalo in Briefs
The Sports Blotter
The Week in Sports Crime
Matt Taibbi
Wide Right
Bills Football
Ronnie Roscoe
Kino Korner: Movies
Michael Gildea
Page 3
Separated at Birth?
[sic] - Letters
 Cover Page

Idiot Box
Perry Bible Fellowship
Bob the Angry Flower

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Drowning Reality: Truth not a major factor for media, EPA in New Orleans - by Kit Smith
Michael Brown stepped down from his position as head of FEMA last week, making him the only individual involved in the quagmire called the New Orleans relief effort who has been in any way held accountable for his inactions. Most others, from government agencies to the rightist media, seem to be pointing fingers at the butler, the dog, and of course Bill Clinton. So while the EPA waives an increasing number of environmental regulations, withholds test data, and disregards the Freedom of Information Act, news outlets across the nation are claiming that environmental organizations must share some of the culpability for the level of devastation brought about by hurricane Katrina.

The September 8th online edition of National Review ran a grossly misinformative article by one John Berlau, suggesting that lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, American Rivers, and other environmental groups are responsible for the levee breaches during hurricane Katrina. Berlau writes that “The lawsuit was settled in 1997 with the Corps agreeing to hold off on some work while doing an additional two-year environmental impact study. Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.”

Actually, it’s quite simple to ascertain. The levees Katrina ruptured were NOT the Mississippi River levees disputed in these lawsuits; they were on the other side of the city. Therefore: NO, the delay affected nothing related to Katrina’s devastation.  

Berlau’s article is full of words like “left-leaning” and claims such groups influenced—wait for it—the Clinton administration. And you thought I was kidding.

While such creative blame assignment may be impressive, the absence of truth in this piece should be cause for concern among even the most cynical BEAST readers, especially since the Department of Justice seems to have taken a cue from Berlau’s article.

Jerry Mitchell of Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger wrote a piece exposing a Department of Justice e-mail sent out to various U.S. Attorney offices which asks: “Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation.”

Similarly, former Army Corps of Engineer chief council Joseph Towers claimed that a lawsuit from 1977 secured an injunction against an enormous levee construction project, and that this project, if completed, would have spared New Orleans. Thomas A. McGarity, a University of Texas law professor and current president of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) responded September 9th, saying “The effort to blame environmentalists is outrageous and cowardly.” A three-page release (available online) by CPR comprehensively assesses and invalidates the Corps accusations.   Unfortunately, such factual responses have not stemmed the stinking tide of bullshit. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) issued their own release stating that “environmental groups opposed flood protection.” An article by Richard Morrison from September 13th takes this indictment as its title, a statement which, at face value, is a cold lie.   You may recall from a past BEAST article on global warming that CEI was revealed as a leading recipient of funding from ExxonMobil. Incidentally, John Berlau is listed as a “CEI expert” on their website. They do not specify what his expertise is in, but scrutiny of their other “expert” profiles reveal lawyers and public-policy makers (Richard Morrison, for example, is the Director of Media Relations), few of which have any type of science background and many of whom have only bachelor’s degrees.

If the public is led to believe, through persistent lies, that environmentalists are responsible for some of the damage done to New Orleans, it not only helps Bush to deflect blame, it has the doubly beneficial effect of tarnishing his foes. It will surely make Americans even more receptive to the notion that environmental regulations are not so necessary, or indeed that they may even be harmful. This would be good news not only for polluters, but for the EPA, an organization which is quietly failing the American Public, and New Orleans residents in particular, as systemically as did FEMA.

If the cops kick your ass, what can you do? Unless you’re lucky enough to have someone aiming a video camera your direction, you’ve got no recourse. Similarly, if the federal EPA decides to break their own environmental regulations, nobody has much to say about it.

The waters that covered New Orleans for a week picked up every toxin you can imagine, and a lot you probably can’t. Not just the obvious things like sewage, corpses, and oil from the spills, but contaminants from every gas station, dry cleaner, hardware store, and whatever was under the kitchen sink of every deluged home. Also submerged were a number of chemical plants and three superfund sites, including a landfill.

The resultant poisonous brew obviously needed to be drained from the city. Under normal circumstances it is (reasonably) against the law to dump toxic waste into a body of water. Yet when New Orleans was pumped dry, millions, possibly billions of gallons of water were sent untreated into Lake Pontchartrain. Eventually, this water and all its contaminants will flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

There was no other choice, since there was no plan. Alternatives didn’t exist because none were ever considered, despite FEMA’s long-standing assertion that the flooding of New Orleans was among the three most likely U.S. catastrophic disasters.

What makes the scenario even more disheartening is that the lake was an environmental success story, with a twenty year legacy. Manatees, porpoise, pelicans, and fish (125 species) had returned, and the city planned to open the beach for swimming next summer. No way in hell, now. The flood waters’ organic contaminants alone are guaranteed to trigger fish kills and cause algae and phytoplankton blooms which will suffocate marine life. The delicate wetlands around New Orleans, some of the most sensitive and valuable in the world, have been destroyed for lack of planning.

Meanwhile, it took the EPA two weeks to report on floodwater samples. And the numbers coming out of the EPA are so confusing that it’s impossible to know if we’ve lost a horse or found a rope. For example: Forty-four spills have released more than seven million gallons of oil. The tell-tale rainbow sheen can be seen in almost every photograph of the region, yet the EPA test results claim no benzene, naphthalene, anthracene or pyrene is in the water. Ahem. Oil contains benzene, naphthalene, anthracene and pyrene. There is visible oil in the water. But who are we going to believe, the EPA or our own lying eyes?

Is bad data worse than saying nothing? That seemed to be the EPA’s first tactic. New Orleans’ Times-Picayune requested basic information about the contamination dangers present in the flood waters to inform their readership. After several days of stonewalling by the EPA, editors finally invoked the Freedom of Information Act. But reports from the Society of Environmental Journalists indicate that no real response had been made even to that as of September 14th.

Don’t misconstrue: This author is no foe of the EPA. The organization has far too much responsibility and is abhorrently understaffed and under-funded. But employees there need to step up at this time, rather than toe the party line. The aftermath of hurricane Katrina is revealing the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, surpassing even the Exxon Valdez.

At one time, when the EPA was a functional regulatory body, it would have acted to minimize the damage and protect people instead of political capital. But Bush’s EPA is as delusional and dishonest as the right wing media shills desperately attempting to blame anyone and everyone for what is clearly a systemic failure of the federal government.

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