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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/19/08

Questions Upstream and Downstream: Oil, Food, Floods, War, Broken Levees

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Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is at one end of the flooding Mississippi River and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is at the other. Both are Democrats and both do not see eye to eye on Bush’s call for more oil drilling in our coastal waters.

Harkin issued a press release today with the header, “Drilling is part of the energy problem, not the solution.”

Harkin charged that since over half of the 20 million barrels of oil consumed in the US is imported, offshore drilling would do little to mitigate the energy crisis which is resulting in $4 per gallon at the gas pumps.

“Offshore drilling is not an immediate solution,” Harkin said in a press release. “And if we are going to talk about solutions that have an intermediate prospect, then investing in biofuels and other renewable energy holds more promise.”


But consider that much of the Midwest grain crop has been ruined. The USAD predicts that corn inventories will drop to the lowest in 24 years—this after there has already been huge strain put on global food markets because of increased biofuel production.

Corn and soybeans are trading close to record highs. Wheat and rice prices are also rising.

Financial impacts will be staggering. Estimates are incomplete, but at least 38,000 have been displaced from their homes in Iowa.

Senator Harkin has these images on his website.

Downstream on the Mississippi Delta, people seem confused about Senator Mary Landrieu. The Senator is doing a yeoman's job explaining the budget cuts that led to levee failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She has stood solidly behind the citizens of the Midwest and blames a decline in dollars for infrastructure for the tragedies in New Orleans and now the breadbasket.

Yes, it has been three years since the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans. Grassroots organizations, such as are solidly behind Landrieu’s 8/29 investigation. However, Landrieu just backed offshore drilling. In an election year, she is under pressure to do so, given the revenue that would come to Louisiana which is the only state that had not directly benefited from offshore drilling to date. She issued a statement to OEN yesterday about the drilling; saying a portion of Louisiana's revenue would go for wetlands restoration.

Speaking through an aid, Landrieu said she recognized that “its [oil] production has had an impact on Louisiana’s wetland erosion. We see it fitting therefore, that the restoration of this coastline be funded through our continued commitment to the nation’s energy security."

Landrieu has to walk a fine line on this issue.

There is absolutely no doubt that the floodwaters of Katrina would have been mitigated if the protective coastal wetland had not been compromised and or destroyed by the oil companies.

War Funding and Human Suffering

Now Iraq has entered the picture in more ways than siphoning dollars from infrastructure maintenance of the levee system. Congress is trying to cut $73 million in housing aid for disabled Katrina victims from a bill that provides $350 million for Iraq refugees. The irony is not lost on Landrieu.

‘‘Nearly three years since the storms, permanent supportive housing vouchers are needed more than ever to help get our most vulnerable population — the elderly and disabled — into safe, affordable homes,’’ Landrieu said in a recent statement.



Meanwhile Katrina’s homeless are now camped under the I-10 bridge instead of on top of it, as they were during the flooding. Yes, homeless are still under the I-10.

None of this bodes well for the towns and cities up and down the Mississippi River, considering this wrangling is going on three years post Katrina. Will New Orleans provide a template for the aftermath of the Midwest floods? Time will tell. Will the 38,000 displaced from Iowa have homes when they return?

Danger in Comparisons

There is a huge danger in trying to compare the human suffering incurred during the epic Mid West floods and what happened after Katrina. The images from Iowa certainly invoke memories of Katrina, and citizens from New Orleans have stepped up to the plate by participating in the Midwest relief efforts.

Videos of “law enforcement” thugs in Iowa that have cropped up on YOUTUBE bring back painful memories of the Danziger Bridge and Blackwater in the French Quarter. In fact, Louisiana’s Governor and possible VP on the McCain ticket, Bobby Jindal, recently ordered the National Guard to remain in New Orleans. The police force is sill understaffed and the guard is riding in city police cars.

The New Orleans population has not yet rebounded with a total estimate of 308,000 returnees, down from 454,000, according to a press release issued by consultants at GCR & Associates. Areas most impacted by the floodwaters have shown the lowest rate of repopulation. Will the same happen in the Midwest?

Meanwhile, the question has been raised downstream about the danger the waters pose to Louisiana.

The water level in Baton Rouge is currently at 28.6 feet and is expected to peak at 31.5 feet. The protection system is designed to withstand 48 feet of water. New Orleans is at 10.4 feet, 1.5 feet lower than when the Bonnet Care Spillway was opened in April. It is expected that the spillway system will work as it has in the past. In fact, the Mississippi levee system did hold during Katrina—it was the floodwater protection levees, also maintained by the Corps, which failed.

Residents report that as of a week ago the Corps-termed “little wet spot” on the 17th Street Canal was a trickle of water, and that new mortar was crumbling on the structure.

The mainstream press is finally getting the picture that over development upstream, which has forced more runoff and taller levees, is a big part of the problem. You can’t blame Mother Nature for this one. The Wall Street Journal had a decent article on the debate today.

The attached video was placed on a popular New Orleans blogspot in sympathy for the Midwest flood victims. How’s Your House, by Ian Hunter accompanies footage of the flood devastation wrought by Katrina. New Orleans understands and remembers.

The New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund ( offers Ian Hunter, Dr. John, the Kaiser Chiefs, Edwin McCain, Maia Sharp, James Andrews and Joe Topping. 100% of the proceeds will help the grass roots New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. Video courtesy of Grewvia, song courtesy of Yep Roc Records.






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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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