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Hurricane Ida highlights infrastructure priorities

Louisiana’s Cassidy makes the case for GOP support

President Joe Biden met virtually with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and governors and mayors from states and cities impacted by Hurricane Ida in the South Court Auditorium on the White House Complex on Monday.
President Joe Biden met virtually with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and governors and mayors from states and cities impacted by Hurricane Ida in the South Court Auditorium on the White House Complex on Monday. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The infrastructure failures caused by Hurricane Ida are already putting a focus on efforts to bolster resiliency even as the response and recovery continues along the Gulf Coast.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, who advocated for including coastal resiliency funding in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate by a 69-30 margin on Aug. 10, said Monday that he was among the more than 1 million Louisianan utility customers without power.

Entergy, which provides electricity to New Orleans, reported a catastrophic transmission failure. New Orleans Councilmember  Joe Giarrusso told The Gambit of a “cascading effect” with all eight transmission lines down.

“It’s really a million homes and businesses that are out,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a virtual briefing Monday led by President Joe Biden. He estimated as many as 2 million people could be affected by these outages.

Officials, including Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, point to the risks of failing water systems and the effect a lack of electricity would have on the parish’s sewer system.

Cassidy said earlier Monday that he hoped fellow Republicans would get on board with the sweeping infrastructure package, which would provide funding for a variety of hard infrastructure, including sewer systems. Though the package had support from 19 Senate Republicans, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Fox News on Aug. 18 he opposed it because of the way Democrats were trying to tie it to a larger package of spending and tax increases.

Cassidy, in a CNBC interview on Monday, stressed what was in the package.

“$50 billion is in there for resiliency, $65 billion in there to harden the grid, things that certainly would help here, and so where Republicans are, I don’t know yet. But, I’m sure hoping that Republicans look around my state, see this damage and say if there’s money for resiliency, money to harden the grid, money to help sewer and water, then maybe this is something we should be for,” Cassidy said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., echoed Cassidy’s sentiment in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

“The devastation from Hurricane Ida is another example of why the resilience investments in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which total $46 billion, are so critical,” Coons said. “The bill includes significant funding for NOAA’s National Coastal Resilience Fund, which helps coastal communities adapt to climate risks; Army Corps projects; flood mitigation; habitat restoration; and programs that specifically benefit Delaware including the EPA Chesapeake Bay program and Delaware River Basin Restoration Program.”

The White House said Sunday that senior adviser and director of public engagement Cedric Richmond, who represented a New Orleans-based House district until joining the Biden administration early in 2021, had separate calls with a variety of Gulf State lawmakers, including Cassidy.

Richmond joined the president in person Monday for the virtual briefing with state and local officials. Biden said that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency was the lead federal coordinating agency, if the officials from Louisiana and Mississippi needed to reach Biden and the White House directly, they should reach out to Richmond.

“If there is something you need, Cedric is your direct line,” Biden said. “I mean that.”

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