The Times' Flood Control Hypocrisy

September 2nd, 2005 10:21 AM
Hurricane Katrina is a U.S. natural disaster unparalleled in modern times, leaving at least half of a major city underwater. In this national tragedy, the nation's paper of record rises to the occasion by declaring everything Bush's fault. But perhaps some blame could be more plausibly apportioned to the Times' own editorial page

Yesterday's lead New York Times editorial, "Waiting for a Leader," asks: "While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?"

Perhaps they were reading old Times editorials on flood control. As the EU Rota blog notes, the Times editorial page has often criticized such efforts as anti-environmental boondoggles.

EU Rota excerpts an editorial from July 14, 1993, during the Midwest floods: "For the longer term, Washington and flood-prone areas must reconsider the pro's and con's of flood control projects and flood insurance. The billions of Federal dollars spent to construct dams and levees have doubtless prevented billions of dollars of damage to the areas they serve. But a dam or a levee in one place creates problems somewhere else. Also, by offering protection, they encourage people to live and work and develop farming in flood plains that are inherently risky. Budget constraints and environmental concerns have slowed new flood control projects in recent years. Congress should resist pressure to spend more now because of this year's floods; these projects need closer evaluation than they've gotten in the past….Flood plains are risky territory, as the Mississippi and its tributaries are proving again. Federal policy needs to control the risk, not just the rivers."

From May 9, 1997, in the aftermath of flooding in North Dakota, the Times praised a liberal Republican for making flood control projects more expensive and harder to manage: "In the last session of Congress, a small band of Republican moderates organized by Representative Sherwood Boehlert of New York succeeded in blocking nearly every attempt by their right-wing colleagues to gut the country's basic environmental statutes. Fortunately, Mr. Boehlert and his friends are still wide awake. On Wednesday, in the first major environmental battle of the new Congress, the moderates and like-minded Democrats beat back a bill that would have permanently exempted any flood control project from the requirements of the Endangered Species Act."

See TimesWatch for more details on the Times' blame-Bush editorials.