Environmental Justice

Public Advocacy Spotlight: Hurricane Katrina

In August 2005, the north-central Gulf Coast was hit by the third-strongest hurricane on record, Hurricane Katrina. It caused severe destruction along the coast of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, the worst damage occurring in New Orleans, Louisiana. In New Orleans, nearly all of the levees were breached flooding almost the entire city and several of the neighboring parishes. Approximately 1,800 people lost their lives, making it one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

Hurricane Katrina highlighted the vulnerability of low-income communities and people of color to environmental disasters. Many of New Orleans’ black residents were displaced, stranded, and left permanently homeless by Katrina. Among the major issues of this humanitarian crisis were shortages of food, water, and medicine. Many neighborhoods were left contaminated and the federal government was highly criticized for the slow pace of federal and state efforts.

Many of the communities affected were already victims of environmental injustices. Long before Hurricane Katrina, blacks in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” a heavily polluted area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans which contains numerous industrial plants, fought unsuccessfully to rid their communities of harmful fossil fuel sites. As a result of Hurricane Katrina, the issue of environmental pollution and contamination was brought back to the forefront demonstrating how the environmental safety of poorer communities has largely been ignored.

CBC members were among the most vocal advocates of Katrina’s victims. Within days of the disaster, members of the Congressional Black Caucus were actively advocating for the hurricane victims. On September 2, 2005, several members held a joint press conference to call attention to the extreme circumstances facing the victims. CBC members Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD); Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL); Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI); Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH); and Diane E. Watson (D-CA) joined representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), NAACP, National Urban League, National Council of Negro Women, National Association for Equal Opportunity, Black Leadership Forum and others for a press conference at the National Press Club. At the CBCF’s 2005 Annual Legislative Conference, CBC members raised funds for Katrina survivors who had been displaced. At the same conference they pledged to pass legislation to help them rebuild their communities. In November 2005, all 42 House members of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA), introduced H.R. 4197, The Hurricane Katrina Recovery, Reclamation, Restoration, Reconstruction and Reunion Act of 2005. The bill was designed to provide for the recovery of the Gulf Coast region and for the reunion of families devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The CBC urged President Bush and members of the House and Senate to give their support.

A little more than six months later, CBC members aired their disappointment with the federal government during a CBC news conference held in response to the publication of a House Select Committee report, A Failure of Initiative. The report outlined how Katrina’s victims had been failed by the federal government’s poor response. By 2006, CBC members remained involved in the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina. CBC members worked hard to narrow the disparities in Hurricane Katrina reconstruction. In 2007, the CBC asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to form a new committee on Hurricane Katrina to focus more urgently on rebuilding the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans. That same year, Rep. Jefferson attempted to salvage billions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina provisions in the revised Iraq Accountability Act of 2007, urging other members to support additional legislation aimed at increasing funds to hurricane ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast. Today, CBC members continue to be involved in the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina.

Watch Congressional Black Caucus Press Conference on Response to Hurricane Katrina

Examples of key Hurricane Katrina legislation proposed by CBC members:

November 2, 2005
109th Congress

H.R. 4197
Sponsored by all 42 members of the CBC during the 109th Congress

Hurricane Katrina Recovery, Reclamation, Restoration, Reconstruction and Reunion Act of 2005

 

January 25, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 265
Sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)

A bill to provide for the establishment of an independent, Presidentially-appointed Commission to assess the circumstances related to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina on or between Friday, August 26, 2005 and Tuesday, August 30, 2005.

 

February 16, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 1144
Sponsored by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC)

A bill to waive the non-federal share of the cost of certain disaster assistance provided in connection with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for other purposes.

 

February 28, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 1243
Sponsored by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-SC)

Gulf Coast Back to Business Act of 2007. A bill to address ongoing small business and homeowner needs in the Gulf Coast states impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

 

February 28, 2007
110th Congress

H.R.1227
Related Bill: H.Res. 254
Sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)

A bill to assist in the provision of affordable housing to low-income families affected by Hurricane Katrina.

 

March 8, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 1411
Sponsored by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA)

A bill to provide for the construction and rehabilitation of child care facilities in area of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

March 20, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 1602
Sponsored by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA)

A bill to ensure environmental justice in the areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

July 31, 2007
110th Congress

H.R. 3247
Sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

A bill to improve the provision of disaster assistance for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and for other purposes.

 

July 16, 2007
110th Congress

H.Res. 551
Sponsored by Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA)

A resolution acknowledging the progress made and yet to be made to rebuild the Gulf Coast region after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

additional information and links.