Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Letter to Sen. Landrieu (D-LA)

Today we are going to visit Sen. Landrieu, asking she remove her name from a bill that waives environmental protections for two years for any project related to hurricane recovery. An excerpt from a letter we delivered by hand today to Sen. Landrieu in Washington, D.C.
"Your bill authorizes President Bush to waive any and all environmental laws for a period of two years for any project that he deems to be related to hurricane recovery. This includes laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, which govern flood protection and coastal restoration projects. Your proposed legislation is not only contrary to protecting the health and environment of American citizens, it also sets a terrible precedent for disregarding our right to environmental protection in future disasters."
The full copy of the letter is below.

November 8, 2005

Honorable Mary Landrieu
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C.

Dear Senator Landrieu:

As residents of New Orleans and the Lake Charles area in Louisiana, we are outraged by your sponsorship of Senate Bill No. 1765, which waives environmental laws and public health protections that are critically important to the lives of your constituents. As we return to our hurricane-damaged neighborhoods, we demand nothing less than the full protection of our health and environment.

Your bill authorizes President Bush to waive any and all environmental laws for a period of two years for any project that he deems to be related to hurricane recovery. This includes laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, which govern flood protection and coastal restoration projects. Your proposed legislation is not only contrary to protecting the health and environment of American citizens, it also sets a terrible precedent for disregarding our right to environmental protection in future disasters. Your bill contains the broadest, overreaching, and unconscionable of any of the post-Katrina legislation before the U.S. Congress that contains waivers of public health safeguards. In fact, it is far worse than the bills introduced by Senate Republicans long known for their outspoken, anti-environmental positions. You have been quoted in the press as saying that your bill is “just a suggestion” and that you did not mean to waive environmental laws. We hope that this is true, not just a specious defense to the press – and as your constituents, we “suggest” that you drop your sponsorship of this bill.

Now more than ever, environmental protection is sorely needed. Toxic mold has overtaken the interior of many buildings and homes in New Orleans, including ours, and harmful chemicals and petroleum products remain in the soil and water, and have infiltrated some water distribution systems. Our coastal areas are in shambles; restoration of our coast and improvements in flood protection must be planned carefully, with proper adherence to environmental laws, and with the full and meaningful participation of local citizens.

The thousands of Louisiana residents who have been displaced in the aftermath of the hurricanes, and who wish to return to their communities, have a right to do so at the earliest possible date. Their right of return is a fundamental human right that requires a safe and healthy environment to which they can return. This right is being denied by current activities, including Senate Bill No. 1765, which all but ensure inadequate environmental health protections for returning residents.

Instead of waiving environmental laws, we need the positive leadership of your office in compelling the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and other relevant governmental agencies to meet their responsibilities for protecting our environment and health. These agencies should be, but are not, taking appropriate action to ensure that returning residents are notified about and provided with protective equipment to avoid toxic exposures. Currently, nongovernmental organizations and volunteer citizens – not governmental agencies – are distributing accurate health and safety information, respirators, goggles, and gloves to returning residents. Further, nongovernmental organizations have been compelled to conduct independent environmental monitoring, sampling, and assessments of neighborhoods as a consequence of EPA’s flawed monitoring, sampling, and assessments, which have been compounded by EPA’s extremely poor communication with the public.

We also need the leadership of your office in compelling EPA to develop, with the full participation of local residents, a plan for managing the significant waste and debris left in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As you should know, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board recently submitted comments that are very critical of the debris management plan proposed by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”). The Science Advisory Board determined that DEQ’s plan rejects less polluting options, and instead proposes methods that will create a proliferation of airborne toxic chemicals through the burning of waste, and exacerbate environmental injustice by locating debris waste sites in poor communities.

For decades, African American and poor communities in Louisiana have been at the forefront in demanding relief from the toxic pollution that has destroyed and continues to destroy our communities. Waiving any environmental or health protections for even a day is the last thing we need now. A meaningful recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities can only occur if all environmental and public health laws are an intrinsic part of the process. We sincerely urge you to withdraw your sponsorship of Senate Bill 1765 and demonstrate your respect for the right of all citizens to a safe and healthy environment.

Sincerely,

Sharon Alexis of New Orleans, LA; temporarily residing in Baton Rouge, LA

Johanna Congleton of New Orleans, LA

Monique Harden of New Orleans, LA; temporarily residing in Birmingham, AL

Erica Jackson and her son Van Jackson, Jr., of Mossville, LA

Nathalie Walker of New Orleans, LA; temporarily residing in Greensboro, NC

Beth Zilbert of Lake Charles, LA

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