Saturday, February 11, 2006

Just Morbid Curiousity: Senate Hearing on Government's Response to Hurricane Katrina

Here's the end of Chair's statement:

 As this committee winds down its lengthy series of hearings and more than five months of investigations into the preparedness for and response to Hurricane Katrina, we increasingly reflect upon what can be learned from the thousands of facts we have gathered. One thing that I have found is a strong correlation between effective leadership and effective response. Unfortunately, I have also found the converse to be true.

The full statement of Sen. Collins (R-Maine) follows and the full transcript can be found at the bottom of this page.

The following is the transcript of the hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, as provided by Federal News Service: from the New York Times.



SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine): (Strikes gavel.) The committee will come to order.

Good morning. Today, in our 18th hearing on Hurricane Katrina, the committee will examine how the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA coordinated and led the federal preparations for and response to Hurricane Katrina. Our first panel this morning consists of Michael Brown and Patrick Rhode, who were FEMA's director and acting deputy director in the days leading up to and following the storm.

As Katrina neared the Gulf Coast, Mr. Brown dispatched to Louisiana, leaving Mr. Rhode as the top-ranking official at FEMA headquarters. Today we will discuss their leadership of the agency during this enormously challenging period. Our second panel consists of two senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. Robert Stephan is the assistant secretary for Infrastructure Protection and one of the chief architects of the National Response Plan. Matthew Broderick runs the department's Homeland Security Operations Center, which serves as the eyes and ears of top DHS officials, particularly during times of crisis. Secretary Chertoff relied heavily on Mr. Stephan and Mr. Broderick during Katrina's aftermath. We will discuss their roles and their views of FEMA from the top of the organizational chart. Our panels today separate witnesses from a federal agency, FEMA, from those of its parent organization, DHS. The separation is deliberate. It reflects in part the differing perspectives on Katrina that we have heard consistently from officials of the two entities. It also reflects tensions between the two that predate the storm -- tensions over resources, roles and responsibilities within the department.

This tension is clear in Mr. Brown's response when committee investigators asked him why FEMA was not better prepared for Katrina. Mr. Brown responded, quote, "Its mission had been marginalized. Its response capability had been diminished. There's the whole clash of cultures between DHS mission to prevent terrorism and FEMA's mission to respond to and to prepare for responding to disasters of whatever nature," end quote. By almost any measure, FEMA's response to Katrina has to be judged a failure. I must say that I've come to this conclusion with a sense of remorse, because I have been struck throughout this investigation by the extraordinary efforts of many FEMA professionals in the field, as well as some FEMA and DHS officials at headquarters, who literally worked around the clock to try to help bring relief to the people in the Gulf states. But the response was riddled with missed opportunities, poor decision-making and failed leadership.

The responsibility for FEMA's and, for that matter, the department's failed response is shared. While DHS's playbook appears designed to distance the department's leaders and headquarters as much as possible from FEMA, the department's leaders must answer for decisions that they made or failed to make that contributed to the problems. One problem that manifested itself in a variety of ways was the department's lack of preparedness for the Katrina catastrophe. Instead of springing into action, or better yet, acting before the storm made landfall, the department appears to have moved haltingly, and as a result, key decisions were either delayed or made based on questionable and in some cases erroneous assumptions.

The day after the storm, for example, Secretary Chertoff named Michael Brown as the lead federal official for the response effort. At the same time, the secretary declared Hurricane Katrina an incident of national significance, which is the designation that triggers the National Response Plan. The National Response Plan, in turn, is the comprehensive national road map that guides the federal response to catastrophes.

The secretary's action led many to question why the incident of national significance declaration had not been made earlier, but in reality, the declaration itself was meaningless because, by the plain terms of the National Response Plan, Hurricane Katrina had become an incident of national significance three days earlier, when the president declared an emergency in Louisiana. The lack of awareness of this fundamental tenet of the National Response Plan raises questions about whether DHS leadership was truly ready for a catastrophe of this magnitude. And I think it helps explain the department's slow, sometimes hesitant, response to the storm.

Similarly, we will learn today that FEMA's leaders failed to take steps that they knew could improve FEMA's ability to respond more effectively and quickly to a catastrophe. In the year or so preceding Katrina, Mr. Brown was presented with two important and highly critical assessments of FEMA's structure and capabilities. Both included recommendations for improvement.

The first was a memorandum produced by a cadre of FEMA's top professional operatives, known as the federal coordinating officers. Among other things, the memo warns of unprepared emergency response teams that had no funding -- zero funding -- for training, exercises The study, commissioned by Mr. Brown, was designed to answer such questions as what's preventing FEMA from responding and recovering as quickly as possible. The MITRE study is eerily predictive of the major problems that would plague the response to Hurricane Katrina. The study points out a lack of adequate and consistent situational awareness across the enterprise -- a prediction that became reality when you look at all the missed opportunities to respond to the levee breaks; an inadequate ability to control inventory and track assets -- we saw that over and over again with essential commodities not reaching the destination in time; an undefined and misunderstood standard operating procedures.

Despite this study, key problems were simply not resolved, and as a result, opportunities to strengthen FEMA prior to Katrina were missed.

As this committee winds down its lengthy series of hearings and more than five months of investigations into the preparedness for and response to Hurricane Katrina, we increasingly reflect upon what can be learned from the thousands of facts we have gathered. One thing that I have found is a strong correlation between effective leadership and effective response. Unfortunately, I have also found the converse to be true.

Continue reading

February 11, 2006 in Climate Change, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Legislation, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

OSU Salvage Logging Paper Still Generating Fire

In a strategic error, OSU's Forestry Department and BLM generated more controversy by their heavy-handed treatment of a graduate student's research than the paper itself created.  Link: Science News Report

February 11, 2006 in Forests/Timber | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Endgame: Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative - New York Times

For the complete story, read Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative - New York Times.

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."

The statement calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through "cost-effective, market-based mechanisms" — a phrase lifted from a Senate resolution last year and one that could appeal to evangelicals, who tend to be pro-business. The statement, to be announced in Washington, is only the first stage of an "Evangelical Climate Initiative" including television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events at Christian colleges.

"We have not paid as much attention to climate change as we should, and that's why I'm willing to step up," said Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, an influential evangelical institution in Illinois. "The evangelical community is quite capable of having some blind spots, and my take is this has fallen into that category."

Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, however, have tried to derail such action. Twenty-two of them signed a letter in January declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue." Among the signers were Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Their letter was addressed to the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of churches and ministries, which last year had started to move in the direction of taking a stand on global warming. The letter from the 22 leaders asked the National Association of Evangelicals not to issue any statement on global warming or to allow its officers or staff members to take a position.

February 11, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Environmental Hit Parade -- Let's Conquer Thirst!

I confess I haven't read it yet, but Thirst: A Short History of Drinking Water intrigues me.  As readers know, the royalties of this blog are now devoted to international NGOs providing safe, clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education.  The 7th Millennium Development Goal seeks to cut in half the number of people without those essentials by 2015.  Current estimates are that it will cost about $ 16 billion additional per year until 2015 to accomplish that goal.  I find it unbelievable that we cannot globally achieve that goal, especially when unnecessary deaths from water-borne diseases exceed 2 million, mostly children, each year.  That's one child every 15 seconds.

For those of you who are members of faith-based communities, I suggest that you sponsor a DRINK WATER FOR LIFE challenge.  Drink water instead of lattes (sodas, bottled water, coffee, alcohol).  Do it for Lent (or your appropriate analogous spiritual break.  Get your friends, your synagogue or church, school or workplace to do the same.  Collect the money you save, gather it together on  Easter (or whatever date makes sense in your faith tradition), put it in a Water Fund, and send it to one of the organizations that do this work.  With just $ 5000, an entire village of 200 - 500 people can be supplied with safe, clean, sustainable drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education. 

If you need addresses of faith-based organization who do this work, or secular charitable organization who do this work, let me know.  If you need flyers explaining the problem, let me know.  Together we can make a difference.

Link: SSRN Top Downloads.

1 107 hits
Moral Heuristics or Moral Competence? Reflections on Sunstein John Mikhail, Georgetown University - Law Center, Date posted to database: January 31, 2006 Last Revised: February 6, 2006

2 54 hits
Setting the Agenda for New Governance Research Orly Lobel, University of San Diego - School of Law, Date posted to database: May 20, 2005 Last Revised: December 19, 2005

3 40 hits
You Can't Pay Them Enough: Subsidies, Environmental Law and Social Norms Andrew James Green, University of Toronto - Faculty of Law, Date posted to database: December 19, 2005 Last Revised: December 31, 2005

4 40 hits
Knowing Killing and Environmental Law Lisa Heinzerling, Georgetown University - Law Center, Date posted to database: January 17, 2006 Last Revised: February 7, 2006


5 40 hits
Waking from Sustainability's 'Impossible Dream': The Decision-Making Realities of Business and Government David Barnhizer, Cleveland State University - Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Date posted to database: January 26, 2006 Last Revised: February 3, 2006

6 35 hits
Checks, Balances, and the Cost of Regulation: Evidence from the American States Dorothy Daley, Donald Haider-Markel, Andrew B. Whitford, University of Kansas - Department of Political Science, University of Kansas - Department of Political Science, University of Georgia - Department of Public Administration and Policy, Date posted to database: January 3, 2006 Last Revised: January 20, 2006

7 33 hits
Daubert and the Proper Role for the Courts in Health, Safety, and Environmental Regulation Thomas Owen McGarity, University of Texas at Austin - School of Law, Date posted to database: November 29, 2005 Last Revised: December 16, 2005

8 33 hits
China and the Geopolitics of Oil in the Asian Pacific Region Pablo Bustelo, Complutense University of Madrid, Date posted to database: November 30, 2005 Last Revised: December 18, 2005

9 29 hits
Thirst: A Short History of Drinking Water James Salzman, Duke University - School of Law, Date posted to database: December 13, 2005 Last Revised: January 13, 2006

10 27 hits
Three Cases/Four Tales: Commons, Capture, the Public Trust, and Private Property in Land Dale D. Goble, University of Idaho College of Law, Date posted to database: December 13, 2005 Last Revised: January 27, 2006

February 11, 2006 in Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science

The Ecological Society of America is sponsoring a Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science in Washington, D.C. on June 5 - 8, 2006.  An excellent article on Emerging National Research Needs for Agricultural Air Quality was published in EOS, American Geophysical Union's publication.  EOS Article on Agricultural Air Quality

February 11, 2006 in Agriculture | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 10, 2006

No evidence that methane releases triggered global warming at end of last ice age

Quirin Scheirmeier, Nature,  full article by subscription  comments on the study by Sowers published today in Science:  Sower abstract in Science

Methane escaping from the sea floor to the atmosphere has been a popular suspect for causing rapid climate changes during and at the end of the last ice age. But new data derived from a Greenland ice core have delivered a killer blow to the idea.

Methane (CH4) is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is usually released from swamps or through biomass burning. But it is also trapped in huge amounts in some ocean-floor sediments, where it lies buried in a strange kind of ice known as 'methane clathrate'. These clathrates are stable only within a certain range of temperatures and pressures; when brought to the surface, they melt rapidly and release burnable gas to the air.

A catastrophic release of trillions of tonnes of methane is thought to have triggered a temperature jump some 55 million years ago in an already warm climate at the Palaeocene/Eocene boundary. But some scientists suspect that similar methane bursts, triggered perhaps by submarine landslides, sea-level drops or changes in water temperature, may also have caused a number of rapid warming episodes during and at the end of the last glacial period.

The theory has been popularized as the 'clathrate gun hypothesis' . But now an isotope analysis of methane trapped in bubbles of a Greenland ice core seems to disprove the idea. 


February 10, 2006 in Climate Change, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Global warming: warmest period globally since 900 CE

Osborne and Briffa have reported in Science that the warm period of the mid-late 20th century has extended over a far greater geographical area than the "Medevil Warm Period" and the "Little Ice Age:"

Periods of widespread warmth or cold are identified by positive or negative deviations that are synchronous across a number of temperature-sensitive proxy records drawn from the Northern Hemisphere. The most significant and longest duration feature during the last 1200 years is the geographical extent of warmth in the middle to late 20th century. Positive anomalies during 890 to 1170 and negative anomalies during 1580 to 1850 are consistent with the concepts of a Medieval Warm Period and a Little Ice Age, but comparison with instrumental temperatures shows the spatial extent of recent warmth to be of greater significance than that during the medieval period.   

Science 10 February 2006:
Vol. 311. no. 5762, pp. 841 - 844
DOI: 10.1126/science.1120514


Full  article in Science (subscription)


February 10, 2006 in Climate Change, International, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

WTO Rules Against EU Ban on GMO Foods and Crops

In a confidential preliminary opinion, the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union violated trade rules when it imposed a moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  The WTO also ruled that six individual states - France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece - broke the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMO’s.WTO Coverage

The European Union will be forced to open itself to more genetically modified products after the world trade panel ruled today that its strict policy on biotech foods and crops amounts to protectionism. The case, brought by Argentina, Canada and the United States, claimed that the EU's unofficial 1998-2004 moratorium on GMO approvals hurt their exports and was not based on science.  US farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many US agricultural products, including most US corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets.

The GMO moratorium ended in May 2004 with EU approval of a canned modified sweetcorn and there have been a handful of approvals since that time.  However, the complainants argued that Europe's biotech approvals process is still not working properly. 

The European Commission claims the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process, so there is no reason to change them - whatever the WTO says.  The Commission insists that the case is not about Europe's GMO policy as such but what happened between 1998 and 2004. All applications for GMO approvals will continue to be processed and approved on a case-by-case basis using scientific criteria.  EU Statement

The WTO issued a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy and criticized national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries. These products had already won EU-wide approval but several governments used a legal exemption clause to enact national bans.  These national bans were cited in the original WTO complaint in 2003.

Green groups predict that opposition to genetically modified foods will increase -- opposition to GM foods already exceeds 70% in Europe.

February 7, 2006 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 6, 2006

In-Stream Flows Conference

On April 20-21, Lewis & Clark Law School will host "Western In-Stream Flows: 50 Years of Progress and Setbacks."  The program will feature keynote speaker Charles Wilkinson as well as water law, policy and science experts from around the West.  More info available through Lewis & Clark's Oregon Law Institute, 503-768-6580

February 6, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Severe Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Ecosystems Foreseen

From EU Environment:

Over the past 30 years, freshwater species have declined faster compared to terrestrial or marine   species. Unfortunately, growing evidence indicate that this trend is likely   to persist in the future. On one hand, freshwater ecosystems will probably   further suffer from invasive species and land use changes. On the other hand, freshwater biota is likely to be impacted by the predicted reduction in water   availability driven by increased water consumption for human uses and   indirectly related to global climate change.

In order to promote the efficient management of freshwater biodiversity and eventually inverse its decline, there is an urgent need to provide solid estimations of fish species losses under plausible climate change and water consumption scenarios.  

In response to this need, a team of international experts used two scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) to cover a large range of possible climate   change outcomes. For the first time, they combined these scenarios with a   global hydrological model to estimate possible losses in river water   availability due to climate change and trends in water consumption. Linking the obtained results to known relationships between fish species and changes   in water availability, they investigated the riverine fish richness over the   next 70 years in more than 300 worldwide riverine basins.


In both scenarios, their calculations showed that by 2070, water availability would decrease up to 80%   in more than 130 investigated rivers with available fish data. About half of   these rivers were predicted to lose more than 10% of their fish species when   climate change and water consumption impacts were considered. A maximum of   75% of local fish losses were calculated for Cauvery, Parnaiba

, and San Tiguel rivers.  


The effect of climate change was the most important factor of freshwater fish loss under the scenarios, while anthropogenic water withdrawal contributed much less to species loss   (an additional 0–5%). However, in regions where substantial irrigation has occurred in the past and is expected to increase (e.g., Southern Asia

, and the Middle East), water consumption is   particularly important for fish biodiversity decline.  

According to the authors, these forecasts are underestimates of fish losses because many other   important drivers were not included in the calculations (e.g. introduced   species, reductions in channel-flood-plain connectivity).

In any event, the scientists argue that along with the international efforts to minimize global   warming, reducing water consumption could be an initial conservation strategy   to prevent the predicted loss of fishes worldwide.  

Source:Xenopoulos M.A et al (2005)"Scenarios of freshwater fish   extinctions from climate change and water withdrawal" Global Change   Biology 11 (10): 1557-1564.



February 6, 2006 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

ELI Boot Camp Course on Environmental Law

ELI's Western Boot Camp will be held March 28-30 in San Francisco.  This is a course specifically designed for the beginning environmental lawyer who will be practicing in the West.  Link: ELI Boot Camp Course on Environmental Law.

February 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

35th Conference on Environmental Law

For any more junior faculty who have not gone, you might consider attending the ABA Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources's Keystone conference.  It generally has an excellent program, filled with experts, and allows you to stay in touch with the practice of environmental law.  Plus its at Keystone in the winter. Link: 35th Conference on Environmental Law.

February 6, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)