CRS Report – Potential BP Liability for the Oil Spill

“Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, Congress has given much attention to the compensatory liability provisions of the Oil Pollution Act and, to a lesser extent, those of the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. However, federal laws possibly relevant to the oil spill also impose civil and criminal money penalties, which may reach dollar amounts in connection with the Gulf spill greater than those for compensatory liability. This report summarizes selected federal civil and criminal penalty provisions that may be found violated in connection with the Gulf spill and related worker fatalities. It does not purport to be exhaustive. CRS stresses that it has no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Gulf spill other than what has been publicly reported; hence the provisions listed here are only an informed guess as to those that ultimately may be found violated.”

Robert Meltz, Federal Civil and Criminal Penalties Possibly Applicable to Parties Responsible for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, CRS Report – August 16, 2010

Hurricane Katrina – Was Flooding Really a Surprise?

(Hurricane Katrina resources)

One of the post-Katrina myths is that no one expected the city to flood. It is true that no politician ever used the f-word when calling for evacuations. This was the single deadliest mistake in the response to Katrina – New Orleans has never suffered widespread deadly wind damage, so the only scary reason to leave is the threat of flooding. In 2002, the TIMES-PICAYUNE ran a very bold and brave series of articles about the risk of hurricanes flooding in New Orleans. These stories made it clear that New Orleans was at high risk of flooding, that the levees were in terrible shape, and that even a moderate hurricane could inundate the city. Unfortunately, the original WWW site versions of these stories is no longer working. This is a pdf archive of those stories:

Washing Away Archive (Washing Away Archive – small)

Also see: Roger D Congleton, The story of Katrina: New Orleans and the political economy of catastrophe, 127 Public Choice 5–30 (2006). (Great analysis of the politics leading to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.)


Images of Katrina

The fifth anniversary of Katina is approaching, so this blog will devote some days to Katrina related posts. I sat out Katrina in Baton Rouge, where we got some damage, but where Rita was the more dangerous storm. LSU was a major staging area for the relief for the storm so there were months of storm related activity here. The LSU Law Center took in about 180 students from Loyola and Tulane – my adlaw class went from 40 t0 80. Many stayed with us for the year, many went on to other schools and school-in-exile programs.

Oliver Houck: Can We Save New Orleans? The Paper

Oliver Houck, Can We Save New Orleans? 19 TUL. ENVTL. L.J. 1-68 (2006)

This is Professor Houck’s cri de coeur, written shortly after Katrina. It is worth reading to catch a sense of the times, and rereading if you have not read it since it came out. There is much I agree with in this paper, and where we disagree, it is partially because circumstances have changed since it was written – for example, it was written when there was hope that New Orleans would use this as opportunity to rethink its footprint, and when there was hope that FEMA would enforce realistic flood maps and prevent the redevelopment of high risk areas.

Community Resilience – Lessons from Katrina

This report was published in 2008. While there are problems with some of the assumptions, New Orleans is no better prepared today than in 2008 because none of the sociological factors have changed – denial is still the operative planning assumption.


From Robert Kates:

Here is a summary of eight major findings on resilience from the history of New Orleans that will appear in a forthcoming article with Tom Wilbanks on adaptation and resilience and is based on our CARRI report (Colten, Kates, and Laska 2008).

Climate Change Threats to National Security

National Security and the Threat of Climate Change

In 2006 CNA convened a Military Advisory Board (MAB) of eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals to assess the impact of global climate change on key matters of national security, and to lay the groundwork for mounting responses to the threats found.

In April 2007, CNA released the MAB’s landmark report, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, that articulates the concept of climate change acting as a “threat multiplier” for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world and identifies key challenges that must be planned for now if they are to be met effectively in the future.

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts, GAO-14-446 (June 2014) (Original link with flooding video)

What GAO Found
In its Fiscal Year 2012 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, the Department of Defense (DOD) identified climate change phenomena such as rising temperatures and sea levels as potentially impacting its infrastructure, and officials at sites GAO visited or contacted noted actual impacts they had observed. For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations. Impacts on DOD’s infrastructure from this erosion have included damaged roads, seawalls, and runways. In addition, officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure. For instance, they are concerned about possible storm surge during work on a submarine that will be cut in half while sitting in a dry dock. Officials explained that if salt water floods the submarine’s systems, it could result in severe damage.
DOD has begun to assess installations’ vulnerability to potential climate change impacts and directed its planners to incorporate consideration of climate change into certain installation planning efforts. Further, it is a DOD strategic goal to consider sustainability, including climate change adaptation, in its facility investment decisions. However, GAO identified some limitations with these efforts. Specifically:
• DOD has begun collecting data on historic and potential future vulnerabilities from coastal locations (installations and associated sites) and is developing regional sea-level rise scenarios for 704 coastal locations to be used following the collection of these data. However, it has not yet developed a plan or milestones for completing these tasks, including when it expects to finish data collection on a total of 7,591 locations worldwide. Without a plan, including interim milestones to gauge progress, DOD may not finish its assessments in a timely and complete manner.
• DOD guidance requires that both installation master planning and natural resources planning account for certain potential impacts of climate change, but the implementation of these requirements across the department varies. Installation planners said that they lack key definitions and updated guidance on construction and renovation going beyond current building codes to account for climate change. Without additional information, installation planners will be unlikely to consistently account for climate change impacts in their Master Plans and Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans.
• Installation officials rarely propose climate change adaptation projects because the services’ processes for approving and funding military construction projects do not include climate change adaptation in the criteria used to rank potential projects. As a result, installation planners may believe that climate change adaptation projects are unlikely to successfully compete with other military construction projects for funding. Without clarification of these processes, DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change.


Eaarth – A mini-review

Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben, Time Books (2010)

First, my prejudice in reading this book – I was looking for a book to introduce law students to global warming and to the idea of adaption, i.e., how we will need to change due to global warming, not just how we might try to avoid global warming.

Ocean Rise and Alaskan Native Villages


(GAO 2003 report) – Report to Congressional Requesters by the United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-04-142, December 2003. Congress directed GAO to study Alaska Native villages affected by flooding and erosion and to (1) determine the extent to which these villages are affected, (2) identify federal and state flooding and erosion programs, (3) determine the current status of efforts to respond to flooding and erosion in nine villages, and (4) identify alternatives that Congress may wish to consider when providing assistance for flooding and erosion. (PDF 5.25 MB)


A Deadly Coast

Southern Louisiana is the most endangered land in the United States. Some risk is due to man made factors, but much of the risk is secondary to long-term geologic and weather cycles that have periodically raised and then inundated the United States well into the Midwest. The core threat to people and culture in Southern Louisiana is building on land that was already headed for inundation before there was any human intervention. Man has hastened the process, and, with levees, denied its existence.

This Blog will consider the factors affecting coastal areas including global warming. While due attention will be paid to short term issues such as evacuations and disaster response, the primary objective is to explore how man can retreat from endangered coastal areas in a orderly fashion. If such a retreat can be envisioned and enabled, then lives, money, and cultures can be saved. If not, pursuing current strategies of denial and patronage-driven public works projects will only assure that all three are lost.