As Hurricane Katrina survivors trickle back into New Orleans to gather the moist, polluted remainders of their belongings and lives, talk among media and politicians turns to blame--and not only who to blame, but for what: the lackluster response or the flood itself? According to a story in the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, the U.S. Department of Justice might be seeking to place some of the blame for the flood of New Orleans on conservation litigation by the Sierra Club and other groups.
According to the story, the DOJ sent out this e-mail last week to various U.S. Attorney's offices: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the 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."
The Sierra Club and other groups did, according to the article, sue the Corps in 1996 to hold off fortification of 303 miles of Mississippi River levees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. However, since the floodwaters came from north of New Orleans via Lake Pontchartrain, the Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of attempting to orchestrate a "witch-hunt" against conservationists. "[The e-mail] makes clear that the Bush administration is more interested in building a case to deflect blame than actually investigating what went wrong before, during, and after the crisis." Federal officials would not comment on the internal e-mail, but the Sierra Club suggested the creation of an independent task force, similar to the 9-11 commission, to improve future emergency management efforts.