With Hurricane Katrina relief efforts ongoing in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle, and with gasoline prices rising over 3 dollars locally, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) held a press conference in his district office in downtown Ithaca this afternoon to offer his views.
The House of Representatives passed a $10.5 billion emergency relief bill today that will provide $10 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500 million for the Department of Defense’s relief efforts.
Hinchey said that the special session of Congress that approved the bill was asked for by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who “contacted [Rep] Hastert [R-Ill.] yesterday and asked that we take action to deliver financial means for relief.”
“I assume that the President will sign it this afternoon,” Hinchey said.
“Hurricane Katrina is the largest natural disaster in the United States in decades. The death toll is in the thousands in New Orleans alone,” he added.
Hinchey said that the effects of a hurricane the magnitude of Katrina were predicted earlier this year.
“We know there were predictions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that this year was more severe than in the past due to the warming of the water in the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “This is something for which our country should have been more prepared.”
“Nothing has been done by this Congress in the past five years about global warming, and the Administration will not cooperate with other countries around the world to reduce the effects of global warming,” Hinchey said.
“We are dealing with a group of people who are running the country while blind and ignorant to an issue they do not want to deal with,” he added.
Hinchey claimed that the problems with relief efforts in the effected areas were directly tied to congressional and administrative actions taken during the last couple of years.
“Instead of cutting the FEMA budget, we should have beefed it up. It has made the situation much more difficult to deal with,” Hinchey said.
“If it has not been for this unjustified, unnecessary and unconscionable war, more National Guardsmen would have been available and the kind of criminal activities we have seen could have been avoided. Instead, the National Guard is serving in this ridiculous occupation [in Iraq],” he said.
Hinchey also spoke about the impact of higher gasoline prices.
“The oil companies have been inflating prices over the last couple of years,” he said. “Price gouging has increased and oil companies are now awash in profits. They have so much cash they don’t know what to do with it.”
Hinchey said that they are “scandalously exploiting the hurricane,” and added that “while oil companies and executives prosper, Americans suffer the consequences.”
“We have had no response from the leaders in Congress or the Bush Administration,” he added.
In response, Hinchey said that he and other members of Congress are promoting legislation to have the Federal Trade Commission conduct and investigation into the “price gouging” of oil companies.
“That legislation has been stalled by the Republican leaders in Congress,” Hinchey said.
“Next wee we will circulate a letter to the head of the FTC signed byk other members of congress asking them to begin an investigation into the price gouging and what actions should be taken to provide relief to the American people,” he said.
“We are also introducing legislation to induce an excess profits tax on oil companies,” he added.
Hinchey then spoke about a speech that President John F. Kennedy made on April 11, 1962 in response to a large increase in the price of steel.
“Simultaneous and identical actions of United States Steel and other leading steal corporations increasing steel prices by some $6 a ton constitute a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest,” Kennedy said.
According to Hinchey, steel prices decreased soon after.
“This shows that good, effective leadership in the White House and in Congress can take appropriate actions in these circumstances,” he said. “We had that leadership in 1962. We do not have it today.”
“If the president would say this, it would have a major impact on the price of gasoline. But, his family makes its living on oil,” Hinchey said.
He added that he will be providing the President with the contents of the Kennedy speech and will be reading it on the floor of congress next week.
“We are all going back to Washington on Sept. 6 and I am going to do everything I can to get every bit of energy focused on this issue,” Hinchey said.
Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor