For Immediate Release (Friday, September 2, 2005):
Darryl Malek-Wiley, Sierra Club Louisiana Environmental Justice Organizer,
Ken Kramer, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club, 512-476-6962 or 512-626-4204 Donna Hoffman, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or 512-299-5776
Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club consists of over 25,000 members.
The Chapter spans the entire state of Texas, excepting El Paso, which
is part of the Rio Grande Chapter.
Located in Austin, the Lone Star Chapter's State Conservation Office
serves Sierrans as their grassroots communications center. We also provide
Sierrans with a full time professional activist staff employed to represent
Sierrans as we fight at the state level to protect and conserve Texas'
diverse and valuable natural heritage.
Hurricane Katrina Leaves Toxic Soup
Gulf Coast Communities Keep Hope Alive
Hurricane Katrina, in addition to being a human and economic tragedy, is an environmental disaster of unprecedented proportions. Although the extent of the environmental devastation remains unknown, it is clear that the flooding has wrought a toxic soup in New Orleans. At least two hazardous waste sites are underwater; at least two oil refinery sites in Chalmette are shut down and possibly flooded; throughout the city, gas stations and natural gas pipelines are flooded and leaking into water-soaked neighborhoods. In addition, bacteria and fecal matter contaminate the flood waters and mosquito-borne and other diseases threaten public health epidemics on a regional scale.
As in many environmental disasters, the nation's most vulnerable populations are bearing the harshest burdens on the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama at this sad moment in history. In this case, the largest numbers are the poor people, children, and the elderly who lacked the resources and capacity to leave New Orleans before the storm.
Since the 1950's, Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been a sacrifice zone for oil and gas exploration and production to supply America's energy needs.
Instead of providing a healthy buffer for storm surge, our coastal wetlands and Gulf beaches have been decimated not only by the natural force of Hurricane Katrina, but also by the concentration of petro-chemical plants, storage, and disposal sites. The extent of the toxic damage to the coastal environment is currently unknown.
Most climate scientists are now saying with certainty that global warming is occurring and that humans are playing a major role by releasing pollution that creates a heat trapping blanket around the globe. As the planet warms, the World Meteorological Organization says we can expect more violent and extreme weather, like hurricanes.
Hurricane Katrina spotlights the danger of our continued dependence on oil
-- how fragile our reliance on it is. This one event has seriously affected the production, refinery capacity, and price of oil in the United States. We can decrease the effect of future disruptions by reducing our dependence on oil, not putting up more rigs and drilling in our special places. The fact is, we cannot drill our way to oil independence - the United States is responsible for 25 percent of the world's oil consumption, and yet we have less than 3 percent of the world's oil supplies. Additionally, the current lack of refinery capacity is the result of a conscious decision by the oil industry in the 1990s to limit supply to increase profitability - and they have succeeded. Exxon is the most profitable company in the world, and just last quarter posted profits of $7.84 billion.
In the face of this human and environmental disaster, America, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast have an opportunity to be visionary and think well into the future in our recovery efforts.
In rebuilding New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast, we can help make America more energy independent by using green building practices that emphasize energy conservation and use renewable sources of energy.
We can ensure that the neighborhoods that we rebuild are transit-oriented and people-friendly.
And, we can rethink how toxic chemicals are stored and shipped through our communities.
This is also an opportunity to reach out to people who have no hope and give them jobs to rebuild their future while they rebuild their communities.