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9.26.2005

Holy Shit! I Mean, I Love New Orleans, But Still, Holy Shit!

Louisiana's congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane.

Louisiana Sens. David Vitter (R) and Mary Landrieu (D) tucked the request into their $250 billion Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief and Economic Recovery Act, the state's opening salvo in the scramble for federal dollars.

The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful "Pelican Commission" controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection. The Corps section of the Louisiana bill, which was supported by the entire state delegation, was based on recommendations from a "working group" dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests.

The bill would exempt any Corps projects approved by the commission from provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act. It would also waive the usual Corps cost-sharing requirements, ensuring that federal taxpayers would pay every dime.

With the public eager to help Katrina's victims, President Bush and Congress have already approved $62.3 billion in spending for the Gulf Coast. But some budget hawks are grumbling about the impact on the deficit; the Louisiana delegation's $250 billion bill would cost more than the Louisiana Purchase under the Jefferson administration on an inflation-adjusted basis. Some critics of federal water projects said the $40 billion Corps request could make the delegation look especially greedy and undermine support for the state's reconstruction plans.

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