Tuesday, September 06, 2005

IN KATRINA'S WAKE

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is sure to bring change. For starters, FEMA head Michael Brown should be summarily fired for shear incompetence. It's likely that FEMA will once again be elevated to cabinet level status, where it rightly belongs and should have remained. But there will be many questions other than who's to blame. The storm's impact on oil drilling, refining and shipping will be studied and hopefully improved upon. Most importantly, money will raised and donated for hurricane victims and Federal money will arrive for rebuilding, which will stir debate itself.

This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet with the Energy Department and private energy analysts to examine the nation's refining capacity. They will discuss what the government can do to spur construction of new refineries and whether refining capacity is too heavily concentrated in the Gulf region. Most of the nation's refineries are aging and new refineries haven't built and brought online in years. That is a critical aspect of the nation's infrastructure that needs to be addressed.

Hurricane Katrina knocked out nine refineries and two major gasoline pipelines, temporarily shutting down or greatly reducing the flow of gasoline to markets in the East and Midwest.

Spreading refineries throughout various regions of the country seems wise since having them so heavily concentrated in one area leaves them quite vulnerable to another natural disaster or a terrorist attack. As a result, that leaves the entire nation vulnerable to fuel shortages and sharp price spikes, as we've recently seen.

The House and Senate convened from their August recess to approve a $10.5 billion aid package for hurricane victims, but it should be noted that the U.S. is spending nearly $5 billion per month in Iraq. That will be heavily reported and debated in the coming days and weeks, and is sure to infuriate many Americans. The recovery and eventual rebuilding efforts will place tremendous burdens on the US economy, and there are estimates that the total cost could run as high $150 billion. That alone will inspire more debate about the need to bring US troops home soon.

A reasoned debate also needs to begin about the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans in its current location. The entire city will always remain below sea level, and will thus continue to be vulnerable to this type of devastation. It's difficult, and perhaps even unreasonable, to ask U.S. tax payers to foot the reconstruction bill with that in mind.

The repercussions from this historic storm will play themselves out in the months, and even years, ahead. At this point, the various outcomes can only be imagined. But hopefully some positive changes will result, and perhaps some good can actually come of this tragic event. As a nation, we can only hope so.

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