The White House has devoted a lot of time and effort to blaming state and local officials for the flawed response to Hurricane Katrina, but others on the right have found a different target: environmentalists. In a piece last week in the National Review, John Berlau tried to pin some of the blame for Katrina on an environmental lawsuit that sought to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from raising levees along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
Now, it seems, the Justice Department is trying to buy a ticket for the blame game, too. According to a report in Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger, the Justice Department has sent an e-mail message to the offices of U.S. attorneys around the country in what appears to be an effort to find ammunition for a blame-the-environmentalists argument. In the e-mail, the Justice Department asks its local surrogates: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation."
The Justice Department won't comment on the e-mail, but the Sierra Club isn't amused. "Why are they trying to smear us like this?" David Bookbinder, a Sierra Club attorney, asked.
We don't know if any of the local U.S. attorneys have provided the Justice Department with what it's hoping to find, but the lawsuit the National Review described isn't going to do the trick. As the Clarion-Ledger explains, that lawsuit concerned levees along the Mississippi River. "The levees that broke causing New Orleans to flood weren't Mississippi River levees," the paper says. "They were levees that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain levees on the other side of the city."
Keep looking, Alberto.