Taking Exception

Why Louisiana Matters

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By Mary L. Landrieu
Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Sept. 27 editorial "Louisiana's Looters" displayed a profound ignorance of the regional and national miscalculation of this national disaster. It's not just that people's homes are underwater; that happens with every hurricane. It's not just that roofs have blown off; those are the usual visuals of a storm of this nature. It's that an entire region vital to our national energy supply, security and commerce has been devastated.

South Louisiana is the anchor of America's Energy Coast, securing more than three-quarters of U.S. offshore oil and gas production -- a greater share of our nation's energy supply than even the kingdom of Saudi Arabia accounts for. The ports of south Louisiana, including New Orleans, are America's gateway to the world, handling more than 20 percent of U.S. imports and exports each day, including more than 70 percent of all grains as they move from farms across the nation to markets overseas. And 40 percent of the seafood consumed by Americans each year comes through coastal Louisiana.

But The Post dismissed the federal government's role in the rebuilding of these and other devastated sectors of our economy. It described an effort to rebuild the regional economy as extraneous, comparing it to a sports venue miles from Ground Zero in New York. The people of Louisiana do not share this simplistic view. Nor would an Iowa farmer unable to bring his grain to market, or a Virginia mother who can't keep up with rising gas costs for the family car, or a Chicago seafood restaurateur trying to expand his business even as supplies are constrained.

It is important to note that we will not rebuild New Orleans out of our own sense of need or nostalgia. We will renew and restore New Orleans and the region because its existence is dictated by the needs of U.S. commerce. The question is not whether Americans can afford to raise up Louisiana's economy; it is whether America can afford not to. The answer is clear: We must rebuild stronger, better and smarter than before.

Just as the Netherlands did after the devastating flood of 1953, we will build the world's strongest levee system. But rebuilding this region will take more than just higher levees. We must also build a better education system in the region, while figuring out a way to maintain the education of 200,000 displaced children and 73,000 displaced college students around the country. We must build a better health care system in New Orleans and throughout south Louisiana, and we must figure out how to extend health care coverage to a million survivors whose employers are either gone, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy or dropping their coverage. We must provide the infrastructure and appropriate incentives for businesses and industry that are positioned to accept the risk of reopening their doors amid their unprecedented losses and the destruction around them.

Finally, The Post's editorial accuses our delegation of disregarding the "root causes" of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. But even a cursory amount of journalistic effort would reveal years of requests to stem the repeated cuts to our flood and hurricane protection programs -- most recently in a letter to the president in November -- as well as efforts to restore America's Wetland, our primary hurricane protection. A search of Post archives would demonstrate decades of unity on the part of our congressional delegation in seeking restoration of Louisiana's eroding coast, as the continued erosion increases the vulnerability of our coastal populations.

Despite this legacy of federal neglect, The Post criticizes proposals to give Louisiana greater control of the rebuilding effort. Let us be clear: Louisiana will be rebuilt by Louisianians. New Orleans will be rebuilt by New Orleanians. And the rest of southern Louisiana will be rebuilt under the leadership of the people who call it home. Certainly The Post, long a champion of home rule, should appreciate this enduring spirit.

The writer is a Democratic senator from Louisiana.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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