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2.10.06
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BRANCACCIO: NOW on PBS.

Six months after Katrina, a Louisiana community struggles to re-invent itself.

KEN FORD: But if you go to this whole community, it really looks like a ghost town.

JOY LEWIS: I've lost two houses. I've lost my business. And I also lost my mother.

BRANCACCIO: And, imagine the government taking your house from you --- in order to build a mall!

JOY GAMBLE: If we lose, nobody's home is safe.

BRANCACCIO: And .. The battle over global warming heats up: A NASA scientist goes public to say government officials silenced him.

JAMES HANSEN (CBS MORNING SHOW): A message is being sent not to say things which the administration does not want to hear.


BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.

First to what was once a rough-and-ready suburb of New Orleans. Last summer I visited Chalmette, Louisiana. That town has a couple of refineries nearby and it was a story about the safety of these things given threats of terrorism.

During that shoot, I spent some time with a few residents. We sat on patio furniture in the backyard, had some oatmeal cookies and Coke and talked plant safety. Weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit and that patio furniture and most of the rest of Chalmette got covered in 12 feet of black water.

We've stayed in touch with the Chalmette folks and just the other day we went to see how they're doing. Not well, I'm afraid. The producer is Na Eng.

The devastation stretches mile after mile. Once a bustling community of 32,000 people, Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish is now an eerie wasteland. Mounds of garbage still line the sidewalks… kid's drawings and Mardi Gras beads… relics of happier days.

Before Katrina hit, Chalmette was a working class suburb known for its strong Cajun roots. It sits along the petrochemical corridor that forms the lifeblood of Louisiana's economy. When the main levee at the Shipping Channel overflowed, virtually the entire parish got washed under. As if Katrina's flood waters were not bad enough, the parish was also slammed with a catastrophic oil spill.

It was just a couple months before Katrina hit that I first met local residents Ken Ford and Johnny and Joy Lewis. They had been keeping a close eye on a pair of nearby refineries.

JOHNNY LEWIS: Any time the air is coming from the refineries over your home, it's terrible. Sometimes it's so bad, sir, one night, I was here, I could, I could almost taste it and chew it. That's how bad the smell was in the air.

BRANCACCIO: Even then, they were fiercely loyal to their community.

KEN FORD: I was told, Mr. Ford, the easiest thing for you would be to pick up and move. That would be so simple.

BRANCACCIO: Why don't you move?

KEN FORD: I've been fighting this for so long, that I feel like it's just got to come to an end some day. Somebody's got to realize the truth about what's going on.

BRANCACCIO: Now the very survival of their parish is at stake. We wanted to check in on them and see how they were holding up.

KEN FORK: I was really heartbroken. And being a man, I didn't want to cry, but I did tear up.

BRANCACCIO: Where Ken Ford used to live is now just a shell of a house. Here's what left of it.

KEN FORD: You can see that we had water up to the ceiling, maybe higher than the ceiling, really. And this mold. Before it was even worst than this…

BRANCACCIO: Their new home — a 250-square foot trailer provided by FEMA — sits in their driveway. They just got their trailer a few weeks ago, but they count themselves among the lucky ones. Families in St. Bernard have requested more than 8,000 trailers, but FEMA has only been able to provide about 2,000.

KEN FORD: I see a lot of my neighbors that - are homeless right now. They-- at least they're in shelters and waiting on trailers. There's a long delay on the trailers. FEMA, for some reason, is very slow.

BRANCACCIO: And what was once an open field of grass — before Katrina — is now a parking lot of trailer homes that FEMA has just started to set up for returning residents. While Ken Ford knows the community desperately needs these trailers, he worries about the location. It's just behind his house and a few short blocks from an oil refinery.

KEN FORD: They're putting this particular area, without doing any research or without asking the community whatever you think for this area. A lot of time has been devoted to it and we have shown without a doubt that this is a bad area — it's toxic.

BRANCACCIO: We spent a day driving with Ken to take a look around — and we saw that not a single home in the parish was spared from Katrina's flood waters.

KEN FORD: They say 8% have come back so far. They're saying in five years, they'll hopefully get 50% back.

BRANCACCIO: Ken took us to see Joy Lewis.

JOY LEWIS: Some people are coming back, but the community is gone, Ken. You know that. The community is gone.

BRANCACCIO: This was the first time she was seeing her home since it was fully gutted the day before.

KEN FORD: Joy, when you come back, should you come back - you think you'll be able to take it?

JOY LEWIS: I don't know. I spent forty-fifty years here. I raised my four kids here.

BRANCACCIO: Joy's home was ruined not only by the wind and water, but by a massive oil spill from the nearby Meraux Murphy Refinery.

JOY LEWIS: This is my den… This is where we used to sing karaoke, and these were pictures that were lost… and here you can see my daughter's picture, and the oil spill…

BRANCACCIO: Over a million gallons of thick black crude oil seeped into the yards and living rooms of this community. The extent of the damage is still being assessed. Murphy Oil has acknowledged that nearly 3,000 homes were affected, but the company points out it is taking extraordinary measures to clean it up.

Joy Lewis wonders how deeply the oil may have penetrated.

JOY LEWIS: They're supposed to come here and sanitize it and spray it and all and then take six inches of the top soil off the ground and then replace it. So, you know, how much stayed here. They said it just stayed on the top. That's-- that's not true because my china that I had, it penetrated into this old china and I can't get it out. So what does-- that tells me that it's penetrated in areas I'm not sure of.

BRANCACCIO: Nearly six months after the storm, oil residue still streaks the walls — one sign the community has a long way to go before it can finish cleaning up this gigantic mess.

Authorities say the clean up effort is going smoothly enough, considering the circumstances, but environmentalists worry about the benzene and other cancer-causing substances in the crude oil which has soaked into the ground.

Murphy is compensating homeowners for the damage the refinery caused, if they agree not to take part in a class action suit. About 5,400 people have accepted the offer so far, and the company has paid out more than 50 million dollars in settlements.

Joy Lewis settled with the company for the damage to her property, but she says it's the damage to the community that also concerns her.

JOY LEWIS: I think they're trying. You know they really are. They're offering so much per square foot for your house, the damage and all that. And they are cleaning it out. But I still don't think that's enough, you know, because they ruined a whole community. They ruined a whole half a parish, I'll say.

BRANCACCIO: Katrina has turned her world upside down in ways she never could have imagined.

JOY LEWIS: I've lost two houses. I've lost my business. And I also lost my mother. She drowned at the Saint Rita's Home, which I thought was so safe, but I found out it wasn't.

BRANCACCIO: A wheelchair sits outside the now abandoned nursing home. It belonged to Joy's mother, Lorita Morales, who was among the 35 people who died here. Many of them drowned before rescuers could reach them. The state Attorney General has charged the owners with 34 counts of negligent homicide. The owners deny the charges.

After the storm waters receded, authorities were able to recover most of the bodies from the nursing home. But it took over five months for them to locate and identify Joy's mother. After all that time anxiously searching and waiting, Joy will finally be able to bury her mother next week.

Joy Lewis has decided she probably won't be returning to St. Bernard Parish, and that means leaving the home she's lived in nearly her entire life.

JOY LEWIS: I'm kind of scared to come back. But I love Saint Bernard. I always did. And I've been here for 50 years. And I just-- I'm heartbroken. I mean what else can I say? That's how I feel. I'm heartbroken.


BRANCACCIO: Folks keep stopping me in the supermarket to talk about the eminent domain story we did last year. There's something about that one, conservatives and liberals alike, are unsettled by the powers of government to seize and tear down a person's house. It used to be for highways or schools, but now houses can be taken so that private developers can build fancier property, for the good of the wider community, of course.

The Supreme Court has now ruled on this, but the case of eminent domain is anything but closed. Karla Murthy produced.

BRANCACCIO: Last spring, we dropped in on the residents of this beachfront neighborhood in Long Branch, New Jersey, and met people who take some serious pride in home ownership.

ROSE LAROSA: …the dining room, my dad bought this at Vogels…

DENISE HOAGLAND: …my husband built these shevles 13 years ago…

ANNA DE FARIA: And this is one of my bedrooms right-- oh, no, you don't want the vacuum cleaner. Don't get that one.

BRANCACCIO: Most of the residents here have lived in these homes for decades. Some, their whole lives. Anna de Faria and her husband, Tony, bought their 2 bedroom home in 1960.

ANNA DE FARIA: We worked very, very hard to have this little house. Very hard.

BRANCACCIO: But de Faria and her neighbors are holding up the city's new vision of this seaside neighborhood. The city of Long Branch wants to uproot these residents and turn their homes into these — hundreds of high-end condos.

Local officials say the city's in a financial pinch, and this property would be a lot more lucrative if it was turned over for private development. A lot of residents don't want to sell, no matter how much they're offered. But the mayor has said he will invoke the power of eminent domain to force them to sell.

ANNA DE FARIA: If they had to build a hospital or a road or something, you know, we wouldn't feel as bad as taking my house, knocking my house down to put a million dollar house on mine. That's what hurts me the most.

SCOTT BULLOCK: Eminent domain is one of the most awesome powers a government has at it's disposal.

BRANCACCIO: Scott Bullock is a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian law firm in Washington DC that's made a name for itself fighting property rights cases.

SCOTT BULLOCK: The ability to take your home, your business, your land -- is about the most serious things government can do to you, next to perhaps putting you in jail.

BRANCACCIO: Eminent domain power comes from the 5th Amendment to the Constitution. "…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Bullock argues that cities and towns today seem to have forgotten that "public use" part.

SCOTT BULLOCK: Eminent domain is increasingly being used for private projects and for private profits. That is a completely illegitimate use of eminent domain.

BRANCACCIO: But city officials in Long Branch, New Jersey say that it doesn't matter that they're taking people's homes for private condominiums. Their argument is that those condos will help revitalize the whole town, qualifying them as something of a public good.

Here in Ohio, Carl and Joy Gamble heard that same argument from their local officials four years ago. A private developer wanted to build a new mall in the city of Norwood. — right where they lived. But the Gambles weren't exactly interested in leaving.

CARL GAMBLE: I made a big sign and stuck it in the yard. "If you want this property, you should have bought it in 1969." I don't think they liked that, but it was the truth.

JOY GAMBLE: And here is in front of our house, these are three neighbors...

BRANCACCIO: The Gambles bought their home 36 years ago. They can only show us photos of their house now, because this is what it looks like today.

Thanks to the power of eminent domain, the Gambles were forced out of their house. It now belongs to the developer.

In order for the city of Norwood to take the Gamble's home, their neighborhood must be found to be quote "blighted." Based on a study of the area, which cited things like weeds in people's lawns and heavy traffic, the city decided the area was blighted.

The Gambles tried to get that blight designation overturned in court. And they won… well, sort of. The court ruled that the Gambles neighborhood was not blighted. But they did find that the area was quote "deteriorating" - which is the lowest legal standard in Ohio for justifying eminent domain. It was the first time an Ohio court had authorized eminent domain on such a low standard.

MAYOR TOM WILLIAMS: My conscience was clear. I believe, and the people that supported us do believe that it was the right thing to do for the survival of this city.

BRANCACCIO: 'Survival of a city' is a pretty strong statement, but that's what Mayor Tom Williams says is at stake here. Norwood is under financial duress. It's estimated that the new development could net the city two to three million dollars a year in taxes.

MAYOR TOM WILLIAMS: I'll give an example. Prior to sitting down talking to you, we're about ready to lose our copiers.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Your photocopiers?

MAYOR TOM WILLIAMS: Yeah. We're now struggling to make payroll. We owe pension fund monies. We're under a fiscal watch in the state of Ohio. So we're struggling just to keep our heads above water. And it's vital for us to do these developments. It's vital for us to get the earnings tax in to operate this city.

BRANCACCIO: And last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of cities and towns like Norwood — saying that government can take peoples homes for private economic development. The case involved whether the city of New London, Connecticut was justified in taking ninety homes to make way for a hotel, office space and condos. The Court left it up to state and local governments to decide when private development serves a greater public good.

The ruling provoked a backlash across the country — even an act of protest. Angered by the Supreme Court's decision, a group of activists tried to seize Supreme Court Justice David Souter's home in New Hampshire using eminent domain to build a private business, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel."

But more importantly, the ruling sparked a legislative onslaught. Congress and over 40 state legislatures are considering bills to rein in eminent domain powers. Developers and city officials worry that these efforts could hinder the ability to revitalize poor cities - even hamper the rebuilding of New Orleans.

Back in Ohio, the Gambles fate will be decided by the state supreme court. It's the Gambles last chance to get their home back. But according to their attorney, it's not just the Gambles' home that's at stake…

DANA BERLINER, ATTORNEY FOR GAMBLES: As members of this court drive home today, I ask you to think about which of the dozens of neighborhoods you pass would not be deteriorating under Norwood's definition. All of those neighborhoods would be subject to condemnation for private development.

BRANCACCIO: The Ohio court's decision comes out in the next few months.

But the fight in Long Branch, New Jersey is just beginning… Anna de Faria and her neighbors haven't been forced out of their homes yet. Their first day in court begins later this month.

BRANCACCIO: Now on to the politics of denial. It's about what most grown ups can see as the biggest environmental story of our era.

On the one hand there's hard scientific data that 2005 was the hottest year on record and that human activity is contributing to global warming. On the other hand…well, there may be no other hand.

Since we last brought you this story, climate scientists who sound the alarm continue to be muzzled. Candice Waldron is the producer here.

Richard Alley has a cool job. He spends much of his time in a freezer, in temperatures well below freezing.

RICHARD ALLEY: Well we have pulled out a couple of samples of ice. One of them there is a piece from Greenland, and then this one is a piece from Antarctica…

BRANCACCIO: Dr. Alley is what's known as a paleoclimatologist. He studies the history of the earth by looking at ice cores — cylinders of ice drilled out of glaciers and ice sheets.

He is studying ice cores to understand the history of a phenomenon called abrupt climate change.

RICHARD ALLEY: We believe that at certain times in certain places, the earth's climate system will slowly change, and then it will jump or flip to a new state.

BRANCACCIO: The concern is that global warming might trigger this kind of change, leading to an abrupt, possibly catastrophic, transformation of the climate.

Dr. Tim Barnett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography near San Diego researches how global warming is affecting our oceans.

DR. TIM BARNETT: We're not talking about scare tactics here. We're not talking about being doom and gloom. We're talking about the situation that we're creating for ourself. And the best minds on the planet tell us that we've got a problem. And we better damn well pay attention to it. And we just have not done that yet.

BRANCACCIO: At last count, there were close to a thousand scientific studies supporting the case for global warming…but that science has run headlong into the politics of denial. In August President Bush signed a sweeping energy bill. It's chock full of tax breaks and subsidies to coal, oil and gas companies — the very industries that contribute most to global warming.

And who's one of Capitol Hill's most outspoken voices on global warming? Senator James Inhofe of oil-producing Oklahoma. He's Chairman of The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the committee's biggest recipient of contributions from oil and gas companies. He says global warming is a hoax.

SENATOR JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): Put simply, man induced global warming is an article of religious faith to the far left alarmists.

BRANCACCIO: This has all become a pitched battle in Washington between those who maintain that the problem is overstated, and those guided by the vast majority of the scientific community who are concerned about the censorship of science in the current administration.

JAMES HANSEN: A message is being sent not to say things which the administration does not want to hear.

BRANCACCIO: James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA, went public two weeks ago, claiming he was silenced by the administration. In a recent speech to a group of fellow scientists, he said that without U.S. leadership, climate change would eventually leave the earth a different planet.

JAMES HANSEN: It's chilling because a democracy requires that the public be well informed, and I think that what's happened over the last few years is unprecedented in the United States history.

BRANCACCIO: So what has happened? Early in his Administration President Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Treaty.

PRESIDENT BUSH: The targets themselves were arbitrary and not based upon science.

BRANCACCIO: His opposition to that remains.

At the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, American delegates refused to sign The Kyoto Protocol and walked out for a time when the discussions turned to the mandatory regulation of greenhouse gases.

And just last month President Bush met with six former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency who urged immediate action. One former administrator said "to say we'll deal with it later and try to push it away is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."

Scientists also say the time to pay attention is now. Just listen to the most recent evidence coming out of the arctic.

SUSAN JOY HASSOL: The Arctic is warming very rapidly. It's warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. And it's projected to warm twice as much as the rest of the world in this century.

Susan Joy Hassol is one of the authors of a major report on arctic climate, a four year study by 300 scientists from around the world.

SUSAN JOY HASSOL: The Arctic plays a very special role in global climate. The Arctic is like the air-conditioner for the world. When the Arctic starts to lose its snow and ice, it doesn't just affect the Arctic. It affects the entire planet's climate system.

BRANCACCIO: So when the arctic glaciers, which are based on land, melt, sea level rises, ultimately affecting our coastlines.

SUSAN JOY HASSOL: We're expecting one to three feet of sea level rise in this century. And this is what Florida looks like with three feet of sea level rise. Everything in red on this map would be inundated.

BRANCACCIO: Scientists say there's no quick fix for the problem of global warming. Once released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide lasts for centuries. And while new technologies can help, fixing global warming is a tough sell politically. It means increasing conservation and reductions in the use of oil, gas and coal — something the president's policy does not enforce. President Bush's global warming program is voluntary. Industry is under no obligation to participate.

SUSAN JOY HASSOL: As long as it's free to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, people are going to keep doing it.

BRANCACCIO: To date, no new legislation has been introduced. And in last week's State of the Union address global warming was mentioned zero times. Many scientists say the White House needs to get moving on this.

BARNETT: We're on a much shorter time scale. We don't have time now. I mean, if the greenhouse signal is there. It's alive and well in the environment and in the ecosystems. We need to do something right now.

If you're looking for the portable version of those updates, you're in luck because we're podcasting. Just go to our Web site at pbs.org to sign up.

And next week on NOW: An insider's guide to how your tax money gets used and misused. Lobbyists are making deals to sneak special interest projects into the budget.

REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN): Like they might ask oh pay me $100,000 as a lobbyist and then I'll get you a million dollar earmark. That's a ten to one return on money. And see earmarks are being handed out so freely that this has become the grease of the entire political system.

And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you again next week.

Connect to NOW online at pbs.org.

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