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Highlights

In 2005, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, more than 1,600 people lost their lives and more than a million were driven from their homes on the Gulf Coast. Tens of thousands of homes in New Orleans were flooded, many requiring either demolition or gutting before reconstruction. Nearly 3 years later, the New Orleans area still faces significant debris management issues and challenges. For example, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) stated that while the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated in July 2008 that it had funded about 16,900 home demolitions, an estimated 6,100 homes remained to be demolished around the New Orleans area. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) establishes programs and processes for the federal government to provide major disaster and emergency assistance to states, local governments, tribal nations, and others. FEMA has the responsibility for administering the provisions of the Stafford Act, including approving and funding the assistance provided under it. This assistance has been provided to the Gulf Coast under the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Framework (formerly called the National Response Plan). In New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps of Engineers) was the primary federal agency responsible for providing debris removal and disposal until it concluded its response activities in September 2007. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the coordinator of federal emergency support for oil and hazardous materials releases, also assisted the Corps of Engineers and LDEQ with debris removal and disposal and continues to undertake Katrina response activities, such as monitoring landfill operations. The federal law addressing the management of hazardous and other solid wastes--the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act--addresses nonhazardous solid wastes under subtitle D. The act prohibits "open dumping"--the disposal of solid waste in landfills failing to meet the relevant criteria--and requires state plans to prohibit the establishment of open dumps. RCRA provides EPA with limited authority to address environmental problems at solid waste landfills. The Water Resources Development Act of 2007 directed GAO to address certain activities related to debris management in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We briefed relevant committee staff on the results of our work on March 6, 2008, and held subsequent discussions with them in March and April 2008. We are following up with this report, which provides more detail on the topics covered in the briefing. This report describes (1) key plans and practices federal and state agencies are currently using to oversee debris removal and disposal in response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, (2) enforcement actions state and federal agencies have taken related to Katrina debris removal and disposal, and (3) actions by LDEQ and EPA in response to potential environmental issues at the Gentilly Landfill in New Orleans.

Full Report