New Report Catalogs Risks, Solutions and Policies to Get Gulf Coast Back on its Feet

WASHINGTON (September 21, 2005) -- Hurricane Katrina created one of the greatest public health and environmental challenges in history: water systems destroyed; miles of toxic sludge; huge oil spills; soaring energy prices. A new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) presents a set of solutions, and warns that crucial needs are being overlooked by government officials.

"Hurricanes are a fact of life. But decisions by government officials have a tremendous influence on our ability to survive the storms and get communities safely back on their feet afterwards," said Erik D. Olson, an NRDC attorney and public health expert who led the report team. "We need to make sure we don't repeat terrible mistakes of the past that put tens of thousands of people at needless risk."

The report was prepared by NRDC's experts on health, toxic waste, urban design, coastal protection and energy. It identifies key challenges, sets out recommendations for overcoming them, and warns many of these issues are absent from the public discussion.

The report, After Katrina: New Solutions for Safe Communities and a Secure Energy Future, is available online.

Recommendations include immediate federal assistance to repair more than 400 local drinking water and sewage treatment systems -- many in poor condition even before the storm -- and a much more thorough assessment of chemical and biological hazards at hundreds of sites. The report also spotlights the need to restore natural coastal buffers that help take the punch of flooding and storm surge.

"We need to take a hard look at how authorities have mismanaged our coastlines, and why so many so-called 'flood control' projects by the Army Corps of Engineers have gone so far awry," Olson said.

The report also raises important concerns over plans for expanded offshore drilling in the Gulf, and environmental justice for low-income minority communities that faced disproportionate environmental health risks long before Katrina struck.

The storm also exposed long-term risks to our energy security the added threat of global warming, which scientists say makes tropical storms stronger and more destructive. Finally, the report urges lawmakers to reject pleas from special interest lobbyists to roll back existing health and environmental safeguards.