Environmental policy roots of Katrina disaster

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina may not be entirely the result of an act of nature. After a flood killed six people in 1995, Congress created the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. The Corps of Engineers strengthened and renovated the levees and pumping stations. In 2001, when George Bush became president, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a report stating that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely potential disasters—after a terrorist attack on New York City (and a San Francisco earthquake). But in 2004, the Bush administration cut the Corps of Engineers’ budget request for beefing up the levees that protect the city by more than 80%. By the beginning of this year, additional cuts forced the Corps to impose a hiring freeze. The Senate debated adding funds for fixing levees, but it was too late. Last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed a study on how New Orleans could be protected from a catastrophic hurricane, but the Bush administration nixed the idea.

Before the hurricane, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a series on the federal funding problem. Now, editorializing in an online edition (its presses are all underwater): “No one can say they didn’t see it coming… Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.”

The Bush administration policy of turning over wetlands to developers also likely contributed to the disaster. In 1990, a federal task force began restoring lost wetlands around New Orleans, finding that every two miles of wetland between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge by half a foot. Bush had promised to continue his predessors’ “no net loss” wetland policy. But he reversed the policy in 2003, unleashing the developers. The Corps and the EPA announced they could no longer protect wetlands unless they were somehow related to interstate commerce. In response to this potential crisis, four leading environmental groups (Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation) conducted a study that concluded in 2004 that without wetlands protection New Orleans could be devastated by an ordinary—much less a category four or five—hurricane. “There’s no way to describe how mindless a policy that is when it comes to wetlands protection,” said one of the report’s authors (NRDC senior attorney Daniel Rosenberg, WP, Aug. 12, 2004). The chairman of the White House’s council on environmental quality dismissed the study as “highly questionable,” and boasted: “Everybody loves what we’re doing.” (Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, in the UK Guardian, Sept. 2)

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.”

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps’ project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and implored for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune: “The system is in great shape, but the levees are sinking. Everything is sinking, and if we don’t get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can’t stay ahead of the settlement,” he said. “The problem that we have isn’t that the levee is low, but that the federal funds have dried up so that we can’t raise them.”

The panel authorized that money, and on July 1, 2004, it had to pony up another $250,000 when it learned that stretches of the levee in Metairie had sunk by four feet. The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in decades, but the federal government came back this spring with the steepest reduction in hurricane and flood-control funding for New Orleans in the city’s history.

An Aug. 30 Newhouse News Service article stated: “The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana’s coast, only to be opposed by the White House. … In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana’s chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need.” Local officials are now saying that had Washington heeded their warnings about the dire need for hurricane protection, the article said, “the damage might not have been nearly as bad as it turned out to be.” (Will Bunch for Editor & Publisher, Aug. 31, via TruthOut)

Writes Molly Ivins in a Sept. 1 column, “Why New Orleans is in Deep Water”:

To use a fine Southern word, it’s tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people’s lives.

This is not “just politics” or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies…

One of the main reasons New Orleans is so vulnerable to hurricanes is the gradual disappearance of the wetlands on the Gulf Coast that once stood as a natural buffer between the city and storms coming in from the water… Many environmentalists will tell you more than a century’s interference with the natural flow of the Mississippi is the root cause of the problem, cutting off the movement of alluvial soil to the river’s delta.

But in addition to long-range consequences of long-term policies like letting the Corps of Engineers try to build a better river than God, there are real short-term consequences, as well. It is a fact that the Clinton administration set some tough policies on wetlands, and it is a fact that the Bush administration repealed those policies—ordering federal agencies to stop protecting as many as 20 million acres of wetlands… Bush took his little ax and chopped $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. As was reported in New Orleans CityBusiness at the time, that meant “major hurricane and flood projects will not be awarded to local engineering firms. Also, a study to determine ways to protect the region from a Category 5 hurricane has been shelved for now.”

The commander of the corps’ New Orleans district also immediately instituted a hiring freeze and canceled the annual corps picnic.

Our friends at the Center for American Progress note the Office of Technology Assessment used to produce forward-thinking plans such as “Floods: A National Policy Concern” and “A Framework for Flood Hazards Management.” Unfortunately, the office was targeted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican right, and gutted years ago.

In fact, there is now a governmentwide movement away from basing policy on science, expertise and professionalism, and in favor of choices based on ideology. If you’re wondering what the ideological position on flood management might be, look at the pictures of New Orleans—it seems to consist of gutting the programs that do anything.

Unfortunately, the war in Iraq is directly related to the devastation left by the hurricane. About 35 percent of Louisiana’s National Guard is now serving in Iraq, where four out of every 10 soldiers are guardsmen. Recruiting for the Guard is also down significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq if they join, leaving the Guard even more short-handed.

The Louisiana National Guard also notes that dozens of its high-water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators have also been sent abroad. (I hate to be picky, but why do they need high-water vehicles in Iraq?)…

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives. (Via TruthOut)

See our last post on Katrina’s aftermath.

  1. Grimly prescient journalism
    This appeared in the American Prospect back in May. The author must be feeling rather Cassandra-like at the moment…

    Thinking Big About Hurricanes
    It’s time to get serious about saving New Orleans.

    By Chris Mooney

    Standing atop the levee that protects Metairie, Louisiana, a satellite of New Orleans, from Lake Pontchartrain to the north, everything seems normal at first. But scanning your eyes across the horizon — as I did last November, when I visited my hometown for Thanksgiving — you suddenly glimpse the city’s startling vulnerability. It’s simply a question of elevation: On one side of the levee, the lake’s water level comes up much higher than the foundations and baseboards of the nearby homes on the other side. Only the most expensive houses, those sporting third-story crow’s nests, have rooftops that clear the levee’s height.

    In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops — terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.

    I thought of the city’s vulnerability recently, when the latest news came out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: We can expect another very active Atlantic hurricane season this year, beginning on June 1 and stretching to the end of November. Last year, four hurricanes devastated swaths of Florida. One of the biggest ones, Ivan (a Category 4 storm) seemed to have New Orleans in its sights for a while. Ivan triggered a mass evacuation — members of my family scrambled to Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and Houston — but ultimately missed the city. Now, however, New Orleanians are in for another nail-biting fall and once again must contemplate the possibility of the dreaded “Atlantis scenario” becoming reality.

    A direct hit from a powerful hurricane on New Orleans could furnish perhaps the largest natural catastrophe ever experienced on U.S. soil. Some estimates suggest that well over 25,000 non-evacuees could die. Many more would be stranded, and successful evacuees would have nowhere to return to. Damages could run as high as $100 billion. In the wake of such a tragedy, some may even question the wisdom of trying to rebuild the city at all. And to hear hurricane experts like Louisiana State University’s Ivor van Heerden tell it, it’s only a matter of time before the “big one” hits.

    Currently, pretty much every long-term trend cuts against the safety of New Orleans. Levees are subsiding; coastal wetlands (which can slow storm surges) are continually disappearing; and sea levels are rising. And then there’s global warming — a warmer world with warmer ocean temperatures should theoretically experience worse hurricanes. Most importantly, the Atlantic Ocean appears to have entered an active hurricane cycle, with the potential to fling storms at the Gulf Coast for years to come. This puts New Orleans on the vanguard among U.S. coastal cities (including New York) that will have to think hard about their growing vulnerabilities in the coming years. The process of deciding how to save an entire coastal metropolis has begun, but the discussion has largely been confined to experts, and not nearly broad or ambitious enough yet.

    It’s time to make it that way — before the next battery of hurricanes arrives, rather than afterward.

    New Orleans already boasts some of the most powerful hurricane defenses in the world, yet the city will have to greatly amplify their strength. That engineering feat will take years, prompting talk of more radical short-term protections. Joseph Suhayda, a retired engineer and hurricane expert from Louisiana State University, has seriously proposed creating “community havens” by erecting massive concrete walls down the middle of New Orleans. In the event of a storm surge, the walls would protect hospitals and historic areas, even as those on the wrong side of them would remain unprotected. Where to build the wall would obviously pose a massive moral dilemma.

    Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers and others have considered the notion of armoring the I-10 twin span, near the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain, with a miles-long bulwark rising out of the water. If tall and strong enough, the sea wall, dubbed “Operation Block,” would knock down any storm surge rising out of the Gulf of Mexico before it hit the lake — in short, stopping a hurricane with concrete.

    And that’s just part of the multibillion-dollar program officials with the Corps have envisioned, which would include strengthening huge swaths of the Louisiana gulf coast. New Orleans would be the “only city in the country or even the world” with Category 5 hurricane protections, Corps’ senior project manager Al Naomi told me last November. But these ideas are in little more than a brainstorming stage at this point; whether the bureaucratic Corps can lurch into action quickly enough to protect a city faced with ever increasing vulnerabilities remains a serious question. “Twenty years will be too late for New Orleans,” says LSU’s Van Heerden, who favors a specially funded congressional project more akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

    Shockingly, even in the wake of the Asian tsunami catastrophe, there has been little widespread discussion of scenarios in which the United States could find part of its home territory devastated by the sea. Chatter in New Orleans itself has largely focused on improving evacuation plans and reducing gridlock as a storm approaches. These are necessary conversations to have, certainly, but bigger-picture perspectives have rarely surfaced in broader public discussions. That has to change — and fast. Whatever other natural catastrophes we may be willing to tolerate, the possibility of losing an entire city, and especially the legendary (if also infamous) New Orleans, ought to be out of the question.

  2. More grimly prescient journalism
    From the Houston Chronicle:

    Sept. 1, 2005, 8:04PM
    The foretelling of a deadly disaster in New Orleans
    FEMA ranked hurricane scenario highly likely in ’01


    Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Dec. 1, 2001, in the Houston Chronicle. Because of its relevance to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, it is being republished.

    New Orleans is sinking.

    And its main buffer from a hurricane, the protective Mississippi River delta, is quickly eroding away, leaving the historic city perilously close to disaster.

    So vulnerable, in fact, that earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country.

    The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

    The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.

    In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city’s less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston.

    Economically, the toll would be shattering.

    Southern Louisiana produces one-third of the country’s seafood, one-fifth of its oil and one-quarter of its natural gas. The city’s tourism, lifeblood of the French Quarter, would cease to exist. The Big Easy might never recover.

    And, given New Orleans’ precarious perch, some academics wonder if it should be rebuilt at all.

    It’s been 36 years since Hurricane Betsy buried New Orleans 8 feet deep. Since then a deteriorating ecosystem and increased development have left the city in an ever more precarious position. Yet the problem went unaddressed for decades by a laissez-faire government, experts said.

    “To some extent, I think we’ve been lulled to sleep,” said Marc Levitan, director of Louisiana State University’s hurricane center.

    Hurricane season ended Friday, and for the second straight year no hurricanes hit the United States. But the season nonetheless continued a long-term trend of more active seasons, forecasters said. Tropical Storm Allison became this country’s most destructive tropical storm ever.

    Yet despite the damage Allison wrought upon Houston, dropping more than 3 feet of water in some areas, a few days later much of the city returned to normal as bloated bayous drained into the Gulf of Mexico. The same storm dumped a mere 5 inches on New Orleans, nearly overwhelming the city’s pump system. If an Allison-type storm were to strike New Orleans, or a Category 3 storm or greater with at least 111 mph winds, the results would be cataclysmic, New Orleans planners said.

    “Any significant water that comes into this city is a dangerous threat,” Walter Maestri, Jefferson Parish emergency management director, told Scientific American for an October article.

    “Even though I have to plan for it, I don’t even want to think about the loss of life a huge hurricane would cause.”

    New Orleans is essentially a bowl ringed by levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River to its south and Lake Pontchartrain to the north. The bottom of the bowl is 14 feet below sea level, and efforts to keep it dry are only digging a deeper hole.

    During routine rainfalls the city’s dozens of pumps push water uphill into the lake. This, in turn, draws water from the ground, further drying the ground and sinking it deeper, a problem known as subsidence.

    This problem also faces Houston as water wells have sucked the ground dry. Houston’s solution is a plan to convert to surface drinking water. For New Orleans, eliminating pumping during a rainfall is not an option, so the city continues to sink.

    A big storm, scientists said, would likely block four of five evacuation routes long before it hit. Those left behind would have no power or transportation, and little food or medicine, and no prospects for a return to normal any time soon.

    “The bowl would be full,” Levitan said. “There’s simply no place for the water to drain.”

    Estimates for pumping the city dry after a huge storm vary from six to 16 weeks. Hundreds of thousands would be homeless, their residences destroyed.

    The only solution, scientists, politicians and other Louisiana officials agree, is to take large-scale steps to minimize the risks, such as rebuilding the protective delta.

    Every two miles of marsh between New Orleans and the Gulf reduces a storm surge ďż˝ which in some cases is 20 feet or higher ďż˝ by half a foot.

    In 1990, the Breaux Act, named for its author, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., created a task force of several federal agencies to address the severe wetlands loss in coastal Louisiana. The act has brought about $40 million a year for wetland restoration projects, but it hasn’t been enough.

    “It’s kind of been like trying to give aspirin to a cancer patient,” said Len Bahr, director of Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster’s coastal activities office.

    The state loses about 25 square miles of land a year, the equivalent of about one football field every 15 minutes. The fishing industry, without marshes, swamps and fertile wetlands, could lose a projected $37 billion by the year 2050.

    University of New Orleans researchers studied the impact of Breaux Act projects on the vanishing wetlands and estimated that only 2 percent of the loss has been averted. Clearly, Bahr said, there is a need for something much bigger. There is some evidence this finally may be happening.

    A consortium of local, state and federal agencies is studying a $2 billion to $3 billion plan to divert sediment from the Mississippi River back into the delta. Because the river is leveed all the way to the Gulf, where sediment is dumped into deep water, nothing is left to replenish the receding delta. Other possible projects include restoration of barrier reefs and perhaps a large gate to prevent Lake Pontchartrain from overflowing and drowning the city.

    All are multibillion-dollar projects. A plan to restore the Florida Everglades attracted $4 billion in federal funding, but the state had to match it dollar for dollar. In Louisiana, so far, there’s only been a willingness to match 15 or 25 cents.

    “Our state still looks for a 100 percent federal bailout, but that’s just not going to happen,” said University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland, a delta expert.

    “We have an image and credibility problem. We have to convince our country that they need to take us seriously, that they can trust us to do a science-based restoration program.”

  3. An “avoidable” disaster
    From the New York Times op-ed page, Sept. 2:

    They Saw It Coming

    Published: September 2, 2005

    Lenox, Mass.

    THE deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina are heart-rending. The suffering of survivors is wrenching. Property destruction is shocking. But perhaps the most agonizing part is that much of what happened in New Orleans this week might have been avoided.

    Watching the TV images of the storm approaching the Mississippi Delta on Sunday, I was sick to my stomach. Not only because I knew the hell it could unleash (I wrote an article for Scientific American in 2001 that described the very situation that was unfolding) but because I knew that a large-scale engineering plan called Coast 2050 – developed in 1998 by scientists, Army engineers, metropolitan planners and Louisiana officials – might have helped save the city, but had gone unrealized.

    The debate over New Orleans’s vulnerability to hurricanes has raged for a century. By the late 1990’s, scientists at Louisiana State University and the University of New Orleans had perfected computer models showing exactly how a sea surge would overwhelm the levee system, and had recommended a set of solutions. The Army Corps of Engineers, which built the levees, had proposed different projects.

    Yet some scientists reflexively disregarded practical considerations pointed out by the Army engineers; more often, the engineers scoffed at scientific studies indicating that the basic facts of geology and hydrology meant that significant design changes were needed. Meanwhile, local politicians lobbied Congress for financing for myriad special interest groups, from oil companies to oyster farmers. Congress did not hear a unified voice, making it easier to turn a deaf ear.

    Fed up with the splintered efforts, Len Bahr, then the head of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, somehow dragged all the parties to one table in 1998 and got them to agree on a coordinated solution: Coast 2050. Completing every recommended project over a decade or more would have cost an estimated $14 billion, so Louisiana turned to the federal government. While this may seem an astronomical sum, it isn’t in terms of large public works; in 2000 Congress began a $7 billion engineering program to refresh the dying Florida Everglades. But Congress had other priorities, Louisiana politicians had other priorities, and the magic moment of consensus was lost.

    Thus, in true American fashion, we ignored an inevitable problem until disaster focused our attention. Fortunately, as we rebuild New Orleans, we can protect it – by engineering solutions that work with nature, not against it.

    The conceit that we can control the natural world is what made New Orleans vulnerable. For more than a century the Army Corps, with Congress’s blessing, leveed the Mississippi River to prevent its annual floods, so that farms and industries could expand along its banks. Those same floods, however, had dumped huge amounts of sediment and freshwater across the Mississippi Delta, rebuilding each year what gulf tides and storms had worn away and holding back infusions of saltwater that kill marsh vegetation. These vast delta wetlands created a lush, hardy buffer that could absorb sea surges and weaken high winds.

    The flooding at the river’s mouth also sent great volumes of sediment west and east into the Gulf of Mexico, to a string of barrier islands that cut down surges and waves, compensating for regular ocean erosion. Stopping the Mississippi’s floods starved the wetlands and the islands; both are rapidly disintegrating, leaving the city naked against the sea.

    What can we do to restore these natural protections? Although the parties that devised Coast 2050, and other independent scientists and engineers who have floated rival plans, may disagree on details, they do concur on several major initiatives that would shield New Orleans, reconstitute the delta and, as a side benefit, improve ports and shipping lanes for the oil and natural gas industries in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Cut several channels in the levees on the Mississippi River’s southern bank (the side that doesn’t abut the city) and secure them with powerful floodgates that could be opened at certain times of the year to allow sediment and freshwater to flow down into the delta, re-establishing it.

    Build a new navigation channel from the Gulf into the Mississippi, about 40 miles south of New Orleans, so ships don’t have to enter the river at its three southernmost tips 30 miles further away. For decades the corps has dredged shipping channels along those final miles to keep them navigable, creating underwater chutes that propel river sediment out into the deep ocean. The dredging could then be stopped, the river mouth would fill in naturally, and sediment would again spill to the barrier islands, lengthening and widening them. Some planners also propose a modern port at the new access point that would replace those along the river that are too shallow to handle the huge new ships now being built worldwide.

    Erect huge seagates across the pair of narrow straits that connect the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, which lies north of the city, to the gulf. Now, any hurricane that blows in from the south will push a wall of water through these straits into the huge lake, which in turn will threaten to overflow into the city. That is what has filled the bowl that is New Orleans this week. But seagates at the straits can stop the wall of water from flowing in. The Netherlands has built similar gates to hold back the turbulent North Sea and they work splendidly.

    Finally, and most obviously, raise, extend and strengthen the city’s existing but aging levees, canal walls and pumping systems that worked so poorly in recent days.

    It’s hard to say how much of this work could have been completed by today had Coast 2050 become a reality. Certainly, the delta wetlands and barrier islands would not have rebounded substantially yet. But undoubtedly progress would have been made that would have spared someone’s life, someone’s home, some jazz club or gumbo joint, some city district, some part of the region’s unique culture that the entire country revels in. And we would have been well on our way to a long-term solution. For there is one thing we know for sure: hurricanes will howl through the Mississippi Delta again.

    Mark Fischetti is a contributing editor to Scientific American magazine.

  4. William Rivers Pitt…
    makes some good points in TruthOut, but seems not to know that “When the Levee Breaks” was first recorded by Memphis Minnie in 1929—two years after the last time the Mississippi burst its banks.

    Wake of the Flood
    By William Rivers Pitt
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    Friday 02 September 2005

    All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
    All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
    Thinkin’ about my baby and my happy home.

    — Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks”

    This will come as no surprise, but columnist Molly Ivins has again nailed it to the wall. “Government policies have real consequences in people’s lives,” Ivins wrote in her Thursday column. “This is not ‘just politics’ or blaming for political advantage. This is about the real consequences of what governments do and do not do about their responsibilities. And about who winds up paying the price for those policies.”

    Try this timeline on for size. In January of 2001, George W. Bush appointed Texas crony Joe Allbaugh to head FEMA, despite the fact that Allbaugh had exactly zero experience in disaster management. By April of 2001, the Bush administration announced that much of FEMA’s work would be privatized and downsized. Allbaugh that month described FEMA as, “an oversized entitlement program.”

    In December 2002, Allbaugh quit as head of FEMA to create a consulting firm whose purpose was to advise and assist companies looking to do business in occupied Iraq. He was replaced by Michael D. Brown, whose experience in disaster management was gathered while working as an estate planning lawyer in Colorado, and while serving as counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association legal department. In other words, Bush chose back-to-back FEMA heads whose collective ability to work that position could fit inside a thimble with room to spare.

    By March of 2003, FEMA was no longer a Cabinet-level position, and was folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its primary mission was recast towards fighting acts of terrorism. In June of 2004, the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget for levee construction in New Orleans was cut by a record $71.2 million. Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri said at the time, “It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay.”

    And then the storm came, and the sea rose, and the levees failed. Filthy sewage-laced water began to fill the bowl of New Orleans. Tens of thousands of poor people who did not have the resources to flee the storm became trapped in a slowly deteriorating city without food, water or electricity. The entire nation has since been glued to their televisions, watching footage of an apocalyptic human tragedy unfold before their eyes. Anyone who has put gasoline in their car since Tuesday has come to know what happens when the port that handles 40% of our national petroleum distribution becomes unusable.