Now, because those who would have improved hurricane protection in New Orleans were prevented by the environmentalist rigorists, the wetlands are polluted and imperiled and New Orleans has suffered the damage that practical minds have been trying to prevent for three decades. What has thwarted them are the Al Gores of the environmental movement and a well-intentioned piece of legislation that has become a major stumbling block to improving the nation's infrastructure and energy production, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). The legislation might have been sensible at the time but it has grown like a bureaucratic cancer. Environmentalist lawyers have expanded its reach until it now entoils practically any construction done by the federal government in red tape that stops projects large and small, some mere pork barrel expense, some critical to the safety of the citizenry.
The congressional task force that exposed the Sierra Club's mischief in New Orleans was convened in April to study the costs of NEPA and suggest means to reform it. Doubtless members of the task force -- it includes 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats -- will find some valuable contributions to the environment that it has made. But the task force and Hurricane Katrina have already revealed that it is in need of serious reform. For too long environmentalist fanatics with no sense of a broad-based commonweal have had a veto over government projects and projects in the private sector that are essential to the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Cost-benefit analyses and free-market treatment of pollution are but two alternatives the task force should consider over the decades-long environmental policy of "just say no."