WASHINGTON, DC (November 2, 2005) -- Thirty-one local and national health, community and environmental organizations joined with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today to urge Congress not to cut corners when it comes to funding critical recovery efforts. The groups say at least $12 billion is needed to protect the health and safety of the communities battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The groups, who represent millions of members, also urged the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to provide better tools to prepare Gulf Coast communities to withstand future storms.

Congress is now at a critical juncture in determining the long-term federal response to these storms. In the coming weeks, lawmakers will be making important decisions about funding for hurricane reconstruction in Gulf Coast states that will have a serious impact on the health, environment, and economy of residents in those areas.

"Katrina and Rita exposed a century of poor government planning and industrial abuse that made much of the Gulf Coast more vulnerable to the toxic aftermath from major storms," the groups told lawmakers in a letter delivered to committee members today. "The reconstruction effort gives Congress an opportunity to lessen the impact of future storms on the Gulf Region by adopting policies that will strengthen the economy, environment and health of those that live there."

In their letter, available here, the NRDC and its partners urged support for the following environmental and health initiatives:

  • $2.45 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restore safe, clean drinking water supplies and sewage systems;

  • $2 billion for EPA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to clean up and assess the damage from oil, chemical and industrial waste spills and toxic sediment;

  • $2 billion for EPA to ensure that millions of tons of debris are safely disposed of;

  • $5.5 billion for the Department of Interior and NOAA to restore coastal wetlands and other natural barriers that protect communities against future storms;

  • $240 million for the Department of Interior to restore damage to national wildlife refuges;

  • $43 million for EPA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration to test sediment, soil, water and air for chemical and biological contaminants as well as identify toxic hotspots for containment and clean up in order to protect the health of Gulf Coast residents and reconstruction workers;

Responding to recently proposed legislation, the groups also urged members of the Appropriations Committees to resist pressure from special interest groups to weaken public health and environmental safety standards, stating that "reconstruction should be planned using the best available science regarding coastal erosion and climate change." NRDC's Legislative Fact Sheet on this legislation is available here.

NRDC recently outlined the enormous public health and environmental challenges, including destroyed water systems, miles of toxic sludge, huge oil spills, and soaring energy prices, created by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in a special report, After Katrina: New Solutions for Safe Communities and a Secure Energy Future.