Commentary

As Long As We’re Pointing Fingers

The Competitive Enterprise Institute issued an alarming press release today about the motivations and eventual outcomes of environmental groups: “[environmental activist]groups argued that the ‘natural’ way would lead to better river management, but it was clear they had other agendas in mind besides flood control,” writes Competitive Enterprise Institute Journalism Fellow John Berlau. “They were concerned because levees were allegedly threatening their beloved exotic animals and plants. In his testimony, American Rivers’s [Jeffrey] Stein noted that the Mississippi River was home to ‘double-crested cormorant, rare orchids, and many other species,’ which he implied were put at risk by man-made levees.” Groups including American Rivers and the Sierra Club sued in federal court in 1996 to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with a planned upgrade to 303 miles of levees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. An Army Corps spokesman observed at the time that a failure of the levees in question “could wreak catastrophic consequences on Louisiana and Mississippi which the states would be decades in overcoming.” The lawsuit succeeded in delaying the project for two years while further environmental impact studies were completed. Environmental opposition to federal dam and levee projects in recent years has championed a state of “natural” river flows, even when it appears that that goal will conflict with protecting the safety of people from potential flooding. Hopefully in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, flood management policy will always favor the “safe” policy over the “natural” one.

Geoffrey Segal is the director of privatization and government reform at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. He is also editor of Reason's Privatization Watch.