Oil billionaires Charles and David Koch contributed to the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, then tried to exploit the crisis to ‘better their bottom line’, a new report reveals.
The report, released Thursday by the progressive research group Bridge Project, highlights the Koch brothers’ influence on the region before and after the storm, including constructing and operating pipelines that destroyed wetlands south of New Orleans and attempting to obstruct legislation that would have aided the recovery.
“This report looks back on how the business practices of Koch Industries contributed to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and how Koch Industries took advantage of the devastation to better their bottom line,” it reads. “The simple truth is that Koch Industries operates with a philosophy of putting its business interest ahead of local interests, and this report examines how that philosophy unfolded for the people hurt by Hurricane Katrina.”
Ten years ago this month Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, sweeping homes off their foundations and decimating vast swathes of the city. The powerful storm, which killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced over a million, struck Louisiana on August 29, 2005. Storm surges exceeded 20 to 30 feet and floodwaters rose so fast that some people drowned in their homes, while the lucky ones who made it to their rooftops waited days to be rescued as the city descended into chaos.
With an estimated cost of $150 billion, Hurricane Katrina is far and away the most expensive natural disaster in modern U.S. history. The storm left a lasting effect on the city’s residents, many of whom are still trying to recover emotionally and financially after losing everything in the floods.
But that didn’t stop the Koch brothers trying to hamper efforts to aid recovery, according to the report, despite their contribution to the devastation.
The Bridge Project cites a federal class action lawsuit alleging that the Koch Pipeline Company and other major oil companies are “partly responsible for the destruction of 1 million acres of marshlands and also for millions more acres of dying marshland.” The destruction of these marshlands for commercial interests eliminated New Orleans’ “natural protection against hurricane winds and storm surges” and directly contributed to the devastation in 2005, the lawsuit says. The case was later dismissed because a judge deemed it “ambitious.”
The report also details an unsuccessful Koch-backed legislative effort to oppose a bill that was intended to promote recovery by limiting premiums for flood insurance. The Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act sought to place a limit on rate increases for people at higher risk of being affected by hurricanes and other damaging storms.
The Koch-funded conservative PAC Americans for Prosperity and other conservative organizations signed a letter in February 2014 urging GOP lawmakers to oppose government intervention in the flood insurance market by voting against the bill.
As the Bridge Project report points out, AFP defended itself by touting its support for an amendment to the bill that would have slowed down the insurance rate increases. However, the conservative groups sent the letter opposing the bill a month after the amendment had been shelved.
The report was released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Bridge Project notes that the Koch brothers are now engaged in a PR campaign to boost their image and to gloss over their role in compounding and then exploiting the Katrina natural disaster.
Though some of these findings have been documented previously, the Bridge Project report highlights the Kochs’ extensive political and economic influence, particularly their role in obstructing environmental legislation and other safeguards meant to protect Americans from natural disasters. Among other things, Koch-backed groups have organized opposition against state-level proposals that incentivize companies to invest in renewable energy. The Koch brothers’ companies have also shut down oil refineries and factories in several states — a move that allowed them to avoid incurring environmental cleanup costs.