Ed Driscoll

The Lawsuit That Sank New Orleans

As Stephen Hayward explained in The Age of Reagan and David Frum in How We Got Here, in 1970, fresh off of championing civil rights for Americans, and then condeming those of the Vietnamese via the anti-war movement, the left turned, in great numbers, to focusing on environmentalism, taking then-needed reforms to extreme measures as an anti-business cudgel. “The ‘snail darter’ gambit”, as Steven Den Beste dubbed it three years ago:

Someone planning to build a dam on your favorite river? Want to stop them? Find yourself some obscure fish living in that river and then get it declared an endangered species. Is the snail darter really all that important? Hell no. It was never about the snail darter. It was about opposing development.

Trying to force someone to stop logging? Wood is good; wood is useful; wood is consumed by this nation in immense quantities. It’s not clear that the way it’s being harvested now is the best there could be, but that’s not what our friends really want. What they want is a complete stop to logging.

If they say “Stop the logging!” they’ll get ignored. They’ve tried that for years. Then they discovered some magic words: “Spotted Owl.” (And then a miracle occurred…)

Found via Power Line, the Wall Street Journal looks at the movement’s natural consequences, in a piece titled, “The Lawsuit That Sank New Orleans“:

After Hurricane Betsy swamped New Orleans in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stroked its citizens (“this nation grieves for its neighbors”) and pledged federal protection. The Army Corps of Engineers designed a Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Barrier to shield the city with flood gates like those that protect the Netherlands from the North Sea. Congress provided funding and construction began. But work stopped in 1977 when a federal judge ruled, in a suit brought by Save Our Wetlands, that the Corps’ environmental impact statement was deficient. Joannes Westerink, a professor of civil engineering at Notre Dame, believes the barrier would have been an “effective barrier” against Katrina’s fury.

All this was reported in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 9. The reactions of environmental advocates and federal agencies show why we would be a lot safer if the federal government did a lot less.

Speaking for environmentalists, the Center for Progressive Reform called the charges in the Los Angeles Times “pure fiction” because the judge stopped construction only until the Corps prepared a satisfactory environmental analysis. The Corps instead dropped the barrier in favor of levees that were less controversial, but which failed. So, the Center argues, fault lies with the Corps’ bumbling rather than with the environmentalist lawsuit.

That’s not fair. The Corps cannot stop a project, conduct a lengthy study, go back to court, and then be sure it can pick up where it left off. Large federal projects ordinarily cannot proceed unless executives and legislatures at several levels of government agree on the same course of action at the same time. That’s why litigation delay can kill necessary projects. However responsibility is apportioned, but for the lawsuit, New Orleans would have had the hurricane barrier.

But the snail darter was saved! C’mon–which is more important??

Update: Hugh Hewitt writes:

Louisiana wants $40 billion in Army Corps of Engineer projects. Whatever the final cost, it will be in billions, and the Senate Republicans should insist that as part of the package, reforms in the federal Endangered Sprecies Act –similar to this that are poised to pass the House– be included in the appropriation so that the notoriously expense-increasing and private property rights destroying ESA not delay or increase the costs of these projects or other Corps projects across the country. A simple tightening of deadlines widely abused by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when the Corps “consults” with that agency under the ESA would be a huge step forward.

I agree.