Order Code RL33477
Disaster Debris Removal After Hurricane Katrina:
Status and Associated Issues
Updated April 2, 2008
Analyst in Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Disaster Debris Removal After Hurricane Katrina:
Status and Associated Issues
Hurricane Katrina produced unprecedented destruction, resulting in disaster
debris from vegetation and man-made structures. Before Katrina, the event that left
behind the greatest recorded amount of disaster-related debris in the United States
was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which generated 43 million cubic yards (CY) of
debris in Florida’s Metro-Dade County. When the demolition of damaged property
in the New Orleans metropolitan area is complete, Hurricane Katrina will have
generated more than 100 million CY of disaster debris.
Before the Gulf Coast region can rebuild, particularly in the New Orleans area,
much debris generated by the storm must be removed and properly managed (i.e.,
landfilled, recycled, or burned). The types of debris generated include vegetation
(e.g., trees, limbs, shrubs), municipal solid waste (e.g., common household garbage
and personal belongings), construction and demolition debris (in some instances,
entire residential structures and all their contents), vehicles (e.g., cars, trucks, and
boats), food waste, white goods (e.g., refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners), and
household hazardous waste (e.g., cleaning agents, pesticides, pool chemicals). Each
type of waste may contain or be contaminated with certain toxic or hazardous
constituents. In the short term, removal of debris is necessary to facilitate the
recovery of the region. In the long term, the methods in which these wastes are to be
managed require proper consideration to ensure that their management (e.g.,
landfilling) would not pose a future threat to human health or the environment.
This report provides the background and information necessary to understand
why cleanup activities are still incomplete and additional funding of debris removal
activities may be needed for some time to come, as well as factors that make debris
removal a costly, complex, and lengthy operation. (The “debris removal” process
may involve several activities, such as waste separation, hauling, landfill disposal,
burning, and recycling.) To illustrate these points, this report provides an overview
of the types and amounts of debris generated, the governmental agency requirements
and responsibilities regarding the debris removal process, and the complicating
factors unique to Hurricane Katrina. Such factors include the slow pace of residents
to return to hard-hit areas of New Orleans, the difficulty in separating hazardous
debris from non-hazardous debris, and issues associated with demolishing private
structures and structures that may contain asbestos. Another issue of concern
involves sending construction and demolition (C&D) debris to landfills located in
communities affected by the storm. This could become an issue of concern to
Congress if agencies participating in the cleanup become liable under provisions of
the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
(CERCLA), also known as Superfund; this could be possible because the definition
of C&D debris was expanded after the storm to include potentially contaminated
Debris removal operations associated with the hurricane are essentially complete
in Alabama and Mississippi. Therefore, this report focuses primarily on issues
associated with continuing debris removal activities in Louisiana.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Amount and Types of Debris . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
Governmental Roles in Debris Removal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Funding Debris Removal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
State Debris Plans and Emergency Declarations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Concerns Associated with Debris Removal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Difficulty Separating Waste and the Slow Return of Residents . . . . . . . . . . 9
C&D Waste Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Demolition of Private Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Asbestos in Buildings Being Demolished . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Appendix. Types of Disaster Debris, Selected Issues/Concerns with
Removal, and a Summary of Selected Governmental Roles
in Post-Katrina Debris Removal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
List of Tables
Table 1. Debris Amounts Collected in Louisiana
for Individual Types of Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Table A-1. Types and Examples of Disaster Debris
and Selected Issues/Concerns with Removal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Table A-2. Summary of Selected Governmental Roles
in Post-Katrina Debris Removal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Disaster Debris Removal
After Hurricane Katrina:
Status and Associated Issues
Many factors have influenced the time it has taken and the cost associated with
the recovery and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region destroyed by Hurricane
Katrina. One significant factor has been the time it has taken to remove vegetative
debris and man-made structures damaged or destroyed by the storm.
Management of debris is a concern after any major disaster. Destruction in the
wake of Hurricane Katrina, and compounded soon after by the effects of Hurricane
Rita, created disaster-related debris greater than any amount previously recorded in
the United States. The volume of waste generated is unique because of the large area
over which the storm caused damage and the nature and scope of the damage.
Regions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, covering 90,000 square miles, were
declared a “major disaster” by the President. Although debris was generated over the
entire disaster area, the most significant property damage was concentrated within a
100-mile radius of where the storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Within this
area, damage due to high winds, flooding from high rain fall, and storm surge
resulted in significant devastation. In the New Orleans metropolitan area, flooding,
largely resulting from breached levees and flood walls, left much of the area under
This report discusses issues associated with debris removal operations after a
disaster on the scale of Katrina. In particular, it discusses why debris removal is an
ongoing concern more than two years after the hurricane, and why it is likely to be
a concern for some time to come, as well as factors that make debris removal such
a costly, complex operation. To illustrate these points, this report provides an
overview of the types and amounts of debris generated, the governmental agency
requirements and responsibilities regarding the debris removal process, and
complicating factors unique to Hurricane Katrina. There are two primary areas of
interest for Congress with regard to debris removal. The first involves the continued
need, if cleanup is to continue, for funding to support debris removal operations,
particularly as the demolition of private structures continues in New Orleans. The
second involves the future potential for federal, state, and local agencies to become
liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
See CRS Report RL33141, Hurricane Katrina: Social-Demographic Characteristics of
Impacted Areas, by Thomas Gabe, Gene Falk, Maggie McCarty, and Virginia W. Mason;
see the section “Hurricane Katrina — Estimates of Population Affected in Impacted Areas.”
Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA),2 popularly known as Superfund, as a result of their
current disposal practices (see “Factors Complicating Debris Removal” below).
Congressional concern regarding debris removal activities is evident the Water
Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA, P.L. 110-114).3 Under § 4101
(“Debris Removal”) of the bill, the Comptroller General of the United States, in
coordination with the Secretary of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) and
the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in
consultation with affected communities, shall evaluate both federal and non-federal
demolition, debris removal, segregation, transportation, and disposal practices
relating to disaster areas designated in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
(including regulated and non-regulated materials and debris). Among other
provisions, that evaluation is to include a review of compliance with applicable
environmental laws and administrative actions relating to debris removal and
disposal in the disaster areas.
Debris removal operations associated with the hurricane in Alabama are
essentially complete. In Mississippi, debris removal operations are nearing
completion. Therefore, this report focuses primarily on issues associated with
continuing debris removal activities in Louisiana.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. It left
in its wake destruction unprecedented in the United States. Damage done to the
region was from two different but related sources — the hurricane itself (resulting in
flooding from storm surge and rainfall, and damage from high winds from the
hurricane itself and from tornadoes spawned by the storm) and the flooding of the
New Orleans metropolitan area from breaches in several levees. Storm surge and
related coastal flooding destroyed vegetation and man-made structures along the
coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In Louisiana, up to 80% of New
Orleans and large areas of Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes were flooded — to
depths of almost 20 feet in the hardest-hit areas. Some of those flooded areas
remained submerged for weeks. Two years after the storm, significant amounts of
Amount and Types of Debris
The scope of Katrina’s destruction is unique, due in part to the vast geographic
area over which it caused damage. Before Katrina, the disaster that generated the
greatest recorded amount of debris in the United States was Hurricane Andrew in
CERCLA is the principal federal statute addressing the cleanup of hazardous substances
that pose threats to public health, welfare, and the environment. Under CERCLA, in
general, waste generators, transporters who select the disposal site, and disposal facility
owners and operators are liable for response costs and for damage to natural resources.
Under WRDA, Congress generally authorizes new Corps water resources studies and
1992. That storm created debris over a 500-square-mile area and generated 43
million cubic yards (CY) of debris in Florida’s Metro-Dade County.4 By comparison,
Hurricane Katrina created disaster debris across a 90,000-square-mile disaster area.
To date, disaster debris totals are estimated at —
3.4 million CY in Alabama,
45.8 million CY in Mississippi, and
64.3 million CY in Louisiana (this total includes debris from
Hurricane Katrina is also unique because of the type of waste generated.
Generally, “disaster debris” includes waste materials created as the result of a manmade or natural disaster, such as an earthquake, flood, hurricane, or terrorist attack.
Debris created from flooding is often quite different from debris created from an
earthquake or storm. Disaster debris from Hurricane Katrina involves two types of
waste — waste generated immediately during and after the storm (e.g., from high
winds and flooding related to rainfall and coastal storm surge) and extensive flooding
related to the levee failure in New Orleans (resulting in deep flood waters that left
some areas submerged for weeks).
The primary types of disaster debris being removed in the wake of Hurricane
Katrina fall into the following categories:
Municipal solid waste — general household trash and personal
Construction and demolition (C&D) debris — building materials
(which may include asbestos-containing materials), drywall, lumber,
carpet, furniture, mattresses, plumbing.
Vegetative debris — trees, branches, shrubs, and logs.
Household hazardous waste — oil, pesticides, paints, cleaning
White goods — refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, stoves, water
heaters, dishwashers, air conditioners.
Electronic waste — computers, televisions, printers, stereos, DVD
The unique nature of debris generated as a result of the New Orleans flooding
is illustrated in Table 1, which lists specific types of waste identified by the
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), EPA, and the Corps that
have been generated in Louisiana. (For more detail regarding the types of disaster
debris being removed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and some of the issues or
concerns associated with its removal, see Table A-1 in the Appendix. Also, selected
issues associated with debris removal are discussed in more detail in the “Factors
Complicating Debris Removal” section, below.)
By comparison, the disaster debris generated after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
on New York City was approximately 1.4 million tons (2.8 million CY).
Table 1. Debris Amounts Collected in Louisiana
for Individual Types of Waste
These amounts reflect the total waste picked up
curbside and from private properties in the New
Orleans area and include all categories of waste being
picked up by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and
local governments (see the discussion of
governmental agency roles, below); it does not
include waste that is to be generated as a result of
demolition activities and rebuilding efforts.
White goods 891,996 units
This total also includes white goods generated as a
result of Hurricane Rita.
Freon is removed from freezers, refrigerators, and air
conditioners and sent to local vendors for recycling.
Electronic goods can usually be recycled, but such
waste generated in the New Orleans area is likely
damaged beyond repair by flood waters.
Louisiana DEQ identifies “waste containers” as
drums, propane tanks, large and small containers, and
vehicle fuel tanks; these containers may also be
counted under curbside debris totals.
This total represents waste collected at HHW drop-off
points or through curbside collection and removal;
some waste in this category may also be counted
under the “Curbside debris” totals, above.
See comment for “Hazardous waste.”
Source: Table prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) based on a review of data from
LDEQ, available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/Default.aspx?tabid=2402].
In addition to debris totals reported by LDEQ (listed in Table 1), the Corps
reported that it removed 36 million pounds of rotten meat and other food from
several large commercial cold storage facilities from the New Orleans area. Also,
LDEQ reported that more than 350,000 cars and 60,000 vessels (e.g., fishing and
pleasure boats) were damaged or destroyed and abandoned.5
LDEQ “State of Louisiana Comprehensive Plan for Disaster Clean-up and Debris
Management,” July 2006, p. 1.
Governmental Roles in Debris Removal
Much of the federal agency response to debris removal after Hurricane Katrina
has been in accordance with provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and
Emergency Assistance Act (The Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206) and the
National Response Plan.6 The Stafford Act authorizes the President to issue a “major
disaster” or “emergency” declaration in response to catastrophes that overwhelm state
and local governments. After Hurricane Katrina, the President declared a major
disaster in certain areas of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This declaration
authorized all federal agencies, as necessary, to provide assistance to respond to the
disaster, including the “demolition of unsafe structures which endanger the public”
(§ 5170b) and debris removal activities (§ 5173).7
The National Response Plan (NRP) was developed by the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) to structure the way responders work together and to
provide supporting mechanisms for disasters so serious that the Secretary of DHS
declares them to be “Incidents of National Significance.”8 The NRP applies to
situations where the resources of state and local authorities are overwhelmed and
have requested federal assistance. Various federal statutory authorities and policies
provide the basis for federal actions and activities in the context of domestic incident
management under the NRP. The NRP does not confer new authorities upon the
Secretary of DHS or any other federal official. Rather, the NRP establishes the
coordinating structures, processes, and protocols required to integrate the specific
statutory and policy authorities of various federal departments and agencies. As with
the Stafford Act, the President has designated DHS as the implementing agency for
Under the NRP, DHS identifies and groups the capabilities of federal
departments and agencies into 15 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) to provide
the planning, support, resources, program implementation, and emergency services
that are most likely to be needed during Incidents of National Significance. ESFs
that include debris removal missions are ESF #3, “Public Works and Engineering”
(for which the Corps is the coordinating agency), and ESF #10, “Oil and Hazardous
Materials Response” (for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]
is the coordinating agency). Not all ESFs are necessarily activated by the declaration
This report provides information necessary to understand individual agency roles specific
to the debris removal and management process. For more information on provisions of the
Stafford Act and the National Response Plan, see CRS Report RL33053, Federal Stafford
Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations, Eligible Activities, and Funding.
The Stafford Act and implementing regulations use the term “debris removal” in a broad
sense to encompass the entire process of removing, handling, recycling, and disposing of
debris (44 C.F.R. 206.224). Similarly, in this report, the term “debris removal” is used
broadly. Where necessary, actions such as disposal or recycling will be referred to
In accordance with provisions of the NRP, all presidentially declared disasters and
emergencies under the Stafford Act are considered Incidents of National Significance (see
“Section II. Planning Assumptions and Consideration” of the NRP, available at
of an Incident of National Significance. After Katrina, ESFs 3 and 10 were activated,
in turn activating certain response functions of the Corps and EPA.
The primary roles of DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),
the Corps, EPA, and state and local governments with regard to debris removal
activities are summarized in Table A-2 in the Appendix. Table A-2 focuses
primarily on these agencies’ roles under the Stafford Act and other authorities and
as outlined under the NRP (e.g., EPA responsibilities under ESF #10 may include
requirements applicable to the management of solid and hazardous waste under
provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [RCRA, 42 U.S.C. §
6901 et seq.]). It does not summarize all potential debris removal activities that may
be required of all federal, state, or local agencies under all federal, state, or local laws
Funding Debris Removal Activities
Congress appropriates money for activities authorized by the Stafford Act to the
Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). The Stafford Act authorizes debris removal by federal
agencies from publicly owned properties (e.g., roads and public buildings). The most
commonly used method for state and local governments to acquire assistance for
debris removal is through the FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program. FEMA can
either reimburse local governments for the cost of debris removal, or the local
government can request direct federal assistance from FEMA, which then tasks the
Corps to complete the debris removal process.
The 109th and 110th Congress enacted six emergency supplemental
appropriations bills (P.L. 109-61, P.L. 109-62, P.L. 109-148, P.L. 109-234, P.L. 11028, and P.L. 110-116) that appropriated more than $123 billion to fund emergency
assistance activities. (See CRS Report RL33226, Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations Legislation for Disaster Assistance: Summary Data, FY1989 to
FY2007, by Keith Bea and Justin Murray.) It is difficult to determine how much of
those funds have been or will be used for debris removal operations. However, as
of November 11, 2006, FEMA determined that federal funding obligated for debris
removal in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana was almost $3.4 billion (and
projected another $800 million in additional funding needed to complete the work).9
The disaster declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi, and subsequent
amendments,10 specify that FEMA would reimburse designated local governments
100% of the cost of debris removal on public and private property, in designated
counties that are eligible for assistance, until June 30, 2006. After July 1, 2006, in
most Louisiana parishes and Mississippi counties, federal assistance for debris
removal is 90%.
Data provided to CRS by FEMA on November 13, 2006.
See 71 Fed. Reg. 2261, FEMA Notice: “Louisiana; Amendment No. 10 to Notice of a
Major Disaster Declaration,” January 13, 2006 and 71 Fed. Reg. 13861, FEMA Notice:
“Mississippi; Amendment No. 13 to Notice of a Major Disaster Declaration,” March 17,
On June 29, 2006, President Bush announced an extension of the 100% cost
reimbursement for Orleans, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Washington, and Plaquemines
Parishes in Louisiana through December 31, 2006.11 The 100% reimbursement for
private property debris removal was further extended to: May 31, 2007, for Jefferson
and Orleans parishes; June 29, 2007, for Plaquemines parish; and July 31, 2007, for
St. Bernard parish.12 Further, on October 26, 2007, FEMA announced that it would
extend its mission to remove marine debris from waterways, canals, and drainage
ditches.13 An extension date was not specified.
The federal government paid 100% of the cost of marine debris removal from
the Mississippi Sound through May 15, 2007;14 for properties located within the
official storm surge-inundated areas of Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson counties, the
90% reimbursement continued through June 30, 2007.15 Pursuant to the initial
disaster declaration for Alabama, the 100% cost reimbursement applied to debris
removal operations in designated counties until October 27, 2005.
Funding for any work after the specified extensions reverts to the standard 75%
federal and 25% non-federal cost-share arrangement for debris removal and
emergency protective measures.
FEMA typically reimburses localities for removing storm-related debris only
from public rights-of-way. The agency agreed to pay the cost of debris removal from
private property, including commercial property, from a number of selected Katrinaaffected counties and parishes in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. However,
this was done after affected state and local governments alerted FEMA that
widespread debris on private property created a health and safety risk and identified
the areas that required debris removal.
State Debris Plans and Emergency Declarations
Both Mississippi and Louisiana are removing their disaster debris in accordance
with specific disaster debris management plans and emergency declarations (as
outlined in Table A-2 in the Appendix, below). A debris management plan serves
See June 30, 2006 FEMA press release “President Bush Extends 100% Funding for Debris
Removal in Five Louisiana Parishes,” available at [http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.
See May 21, 2007, FEMA press release “FEMA's Private Property Debris Removal in the
State Nears End,” available at [http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=36413].
See October 26, 2007 FEMA press release “FEMA Extends Mission to Clear Marine
Debris through Interagency Agreement,” available at [http://www.fema.gov/news/
See June 30, 2006 FEMA press release “President Bush Extends 100 Percent Pay for
Marine Debris Removal,” available at [http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=
See February 28, 2007, FEMA press release “Debris Removal Deadline Extended to June
30,” available at [http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=34531].
as guidance to anyone involved in debris removal operations.16 Those plans delineate
the types of disaster debris that will be handled under the specified emergency
conditions and the existing laws that apply to the handling and disposal of different
types of waste (i.e., hazardous waste, non-hazardous waste, asbestos-containing
materials). The plans also specify requirements regarding the selection of debris
storage and staging sites and waste handling methods (e.g., chipping/grinding,
burning, or landfilling) for certain types of waste.
The debris management plans provide an outline of existing applicable law.
They also include changes to existing law or regulatory requirements as specified in
emergency declarations issued by the respective Departments of Environmental
Quality (DEQ).17 Both states’ emergency declarations, among other provisions,
specify existing and emergency requirements applicable to the management of solid
waste, hazardous waste, and asbestos-containing materials. They also expand
existing law or regulatory requirements to accommodate debris management issues
unique to Hurricane Katrina. For example, the Louisiana DEQ emergency declaration
expanded the definition of C&D waste to allow for the disposal of certain demolition
wastes that would not otherwise be allowed in a C&D landfill (see the “Factors
Complicating Debris Removal” section, below).18 Louisiana DEQ issued the second
extension to its 12th amended emergency declaration on January 28, 2008. Provisions
of that declaration expired on or about February 28, 2008.
On April 14, 2006, the Mississippi DEQ (MDEQ) issued a revision to its
emergency authorizations for the management of building and structural debris and
vegetative debris. In that revision, MDEQ declared that emergency need for
additional storage and staging sites in response to storm management of Katrina
wastes no longer exists for most counties and cities. MDEQ further directed local
governments to begin preparing to close their storage and staging sites and begin
transporting the remaining wastes directly to authorized disposal sites.
Louisiana DEQ, “Hurricane Katrina Debris Management Plan,” posted online by LDEQ
on October 19, 2005 and available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/Default.aspx?
tabid=2245] (in August 2006, LDEQ issued a new debris management plan, also available
on this website); and Mississippi DEQ, “Hurricane Katrina Disaster Debris Management
Response” documents regarding “Building and Structural Debris Disposal” and “Vegetative
Debris Disposal” available at [http://www.deq.state.ms.us/MDEQ.nsf/page/Main_Hurricane
Louisiana DEQ’s “Declaration of Emergency and Administrative Order” and related
amendments and extensions are available online at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/
Default.aspx?tabid=2570]; Mississippi DEQ’s Emergency Order 5062 05, September 13,
2005, is available online at [http://www.deq.state.ms.us/MDEQ.nsf/page/Main_Hurricane
Unlike previous declarations, the expanded definition of C&D waste no longer applies to
all C&D waste generated in the state. Instead, it applies to waste being sent to four
with Debris Removal Activities
Debris removal after a disaster presents challenges unique to that disaster.
Often, the debris removal process takes months or even years to finish. The slow
pace of debris removal, particularly in flooded regions of the New Orleans area, has
drawn attention from area stakeholders, as well as some Members of Congress. The
type and breadth of destruction associated with Hurricane Katrina has resulted in
various factors that complicate, and hence prolong, debris removal operations. Some
of the prominent issues are discussed below.
Difficulty Separating Waste and the Slow Return of Residents
After most disasters, landfill space is usually limited, so communities try to
divert as much waste from landfill disposal as possible through such means as reuse
and recycling, burning, and composting. For example, vegetative debris can be
chipped, composted, or burned; metals can be recycled; C&D waste can be partially
recycled; household hazardous wastes can be separated and disposed of in specially
designed landfills or incinerated; and refrigerators/freezers are emptied of spoiled
foods and reused or recycled.
The separation of waste is also necessary to comply with existing federal and
state laws regarding waste management.19 For example, those requirements specify
criteria under which solid, hazardous, C&D, and asbestos-containing wastes must be
managed. Each category of disaster debris is required to be managed in a way that
will limit the threat that such waste may pose to humans or the environment. To
ensure that disaster debris is managed appropriately, the Corps is segregating and
managing disaster debris as follows:
White goods — collected separately, drained of freon, and recycled.
Metals — collected and recycled.
Vegetative debris — collected, and often ground, for re-use or
burned; when mixed or contaminated with other wastes, burning is
not an option.
Electronic wastes — collected separately and recycled, to the degree
Household hazardous waste — collected separately and disposed of
in specially designed landfills.
C&D waste with asbestos-containing material (ACM) — separated
and disposed into asbestos-permitted landfills.
Tires — collected and recycled.
States are required to regulate the management of solid and hazardous waste in
accordance with provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Solid
waste is defined broadly under the law as “any garbage, refuse ... and other discarded
material” (42 U.S.C. § 6903). Hazardous waste, a subset of solid waste, is defined as a solid
waste that is either specifically listed in the regulations (40 C.F.R. §§ 261.31-261.33) or
meets specific criteria that make it toxic, ignitable (i.e., burns readily), corrosive, or reactive
(e.g., explosive) (40 C.F.R. § 261.3).
Although the Corps requested that residents separate wastes, much of the
disaster debris from flooded regions of the New Orleans area was mixed to the point
that separation is either very difficult or essentially impossible.20 Removing debris
from each private property is time-consuming and labor-intensive. A crew must first
segregate the waste, then waste that can be removed using equipment (e.g., a front
loader) is loaded into trucks. Remaining waste must be removed by hand by a rightof-entry crew (i.e., a crew that has received permission from the property owner to
enter the site).
For most disasters, residents evacuate an area for the duration of the event and
return soon after — able to participate in the waste removal process. After Katrina,
the destruction was so great that returning to many communities was impossible.
This was the case particularly in the flooded areas of Orleans and St. Bernard
Parishes. More than two years after the storm, it is estimated that the population in
those Parishes has reached approximately 70% (Orleans) and 41% (St. Bernard) of
In addition to facilitating more efficient pick-up by placing waste curbside,
returning residents may expedite the removal process by separating the various types
of waste themselves. For example, they may empty refrigerators of spoiled food
(which may also eliminate the need to dispose of refrigerators or freezers); separate
household hazardous waste before it leaks or otherwise contaminates other debris;
remove rain-soaked debris before it becomes moldy or contaminated with other
waste; deal with downed trees, branches, or other vegetative waste; or assist with the
demolition of their homes.
However, even in areas where residents have returned, the separation of wastes
can be problematic. Returning residents have been reminded not to commingle
household garbage, such as food waste, with demolition debris, such as shingles.
According to Waste Management, Inc. (the company that has contracted to remove
household garbage, as opposed to Corps-managed debris, in certain areas of the city),
this has been a problem in some areas — resulting in waste piles that they are not
allowed to remove.22
The slow return of residents is evident in the high number of trips that debris
removal operators have had to make through some communities. According to the
Corps, after a disaster, it typically takes debris collectors two to three passes through
a neighborhood before the disaster debris is removed. After Hurricane Katrina, more
than 20 passes were made in some neighborhoods, and debris collection was still not
For more information about the individual types of waste and issues associated with their
removal, see Table A-1 in the Appendix, below.
These population estimates are based on active residential postal deliveries, as determined
by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. The most recent data were released
by the Center on January 15, 2008, and are available online at [http://www.gnocdc.org/].
Bruce Eggler, The Times-Picayune, “Officials raise stink over trash; Slow pickup is
‘crisis,’ councilwoman says,” May 4, 2006.
C&D Waste Issues
As stated previously, RCRA governs the disposal of solid and hazardous wastes.
Municipal solid waste landfills that collect household garbage are predominantly
regulated by state and local governments. EPA has, however, established minimum
criteria that these landfills must meet. States are then authorized to implement their
own criteria that are at least as stringent as the federal requirements. Louisiana is
authorized to implement its own waste management programs under RCRA. An
element of that program is the authorization to issue permits to construct and operate
municipal solid waste landfills.
Under federal law, C&D waste is classified neither as hazardous waste nor as
municipal solid waste. Therefore, C&D landfills are not subject to federal design and
operational criteria (i.e., C&D landfills are not required under federal law to have
protective liners that a municipal solid waste landfill, which is expected to receive
a certain amount of hazardous waste from households, would have). The disposal
of C&D waste as a waste category is primarily a state-regulated issue. Louisiana
regulations define C&D waste as
nonhazardous waste generally considered not water-soluble, including but not
limited to metal, concrete, brick, asphalt, roofing materials (shingles, sheet rock,
plaster), or lumber from a construction or demolition project, but excluding
asbestos-contaminated waste, white goods, furniture, trash, or treated lumber.
The admixture of construction and demolition debris with more than five percent
by volume of paper associated with such debris or any other type of solid waste
(excluding woodwaste or yard trash) will cause it to be classified as other than
The LDEQ “Declaration of Emergency and Administrative Order” specifies criteria
applicable to C&D waste disposal and expands the definition to include —
furniture, carpet, and painted or stained lumber contained in the
the incidental admixture of construction and demolition debris with
asbestos contaminated waste (i.e., incidental asbestos-contaminated
debris that cannot be extracted from the demolition debris); and
yard waste and other vegetative matter.
Under provisions of the most recent emergency declaration, this definition of C&D
waste applies only to waste that can be taken to four specific landfills in the New
Orleans area.24 All other permitted facilities that received C&D waste pursuant to
previous versions of the emergency declaration were allowed to do so until April 20,
2007. Thereafter, those facilities were required to operate in accordance with the
definition of C&D waste specified in the state’s solid waste regulations (see above).
Louisiana Code Title 33, Part VII § 115.
The landfill specified in the emergency declaration are Gentilly, River Birch, Highway
90, and Tidewater.
The use of local landfills to dispose of certain hurricane-related waste has been
a continuing concern to various stakeholders. In particular, issues associated with the
use of the Gentilly Landfill and the Chef Menteur Landfill (which was closed on or
about August 15, 2006) have drawn significant attention. There are a variety of
issues associated with each landfill, but one issue common to both is the concern
among some stakeholders that C&D waste commingled with contaminated waste is
being accepted at landfills that are not designed to accept such wastes.
Both the Gentilly and Chef Menteur landfills were authorized by LDEQ to
accept C&D waste in accordance with provisions of the emergency declaration.25
The Gentilly Landfill was issued a permit to operate as a C&D landfill before
Hurricane Katrina, but it did not begin to accept waste until after the storm. On
February 14, 2006, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin used his “emergency authority”
to suspend provisions of the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance to allow Waste
Management, Inc. to operate the Chef Menteur Landfill.26
Among other reasons, LDEQ cites the need for these landfills because of their
close proximity to areas that received heavy damage, thus expediting the debris
removal process and minimizing the cost (compared to hauling the waste to landfills
farther away). LDEQ also argues that the waste being sent there will be of a
relatively benign nature and will pose a minimal risk to the environment.
Opponents to the use of the landfills to accept Katrina-related C&D debris argue
that the proximity to the most heavily damaged areas of the New Orleans area is, in
fact, a drawback to their location — they argue that the sites are close to
neighborhoods attempting to recover from the storm. Also, they question how
“benign” the waste truly is. For example, they argue that under the expanded
definition of C&D debris, the landfills can accept waste that is potentially more
harmful. Also, they fear that with thousands of homes being torn down, trash haulers
will have a difficult time sorting out the hazardous debris from the harmless, and that
material more noxious than that allowed under the emergency declaration will wind
up at landfills that are not designed to protect the environment from potentially
Background information and documents regarding the operation of both landfills are
available on LDEQ’s hurricane information website at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/
LDEQ released decisional documents that delineate the justification for the use of Gentilly
Landfill and the Chef Menteur Landfill for the disposal of hurricane-related waste. See
LDEQ’s “Justification for Utilization of Chef Menteur C&D Disposal Facility for the
Disposal of Hurricane-Generated Debris,” available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/
apps/pubNotice/pdf/Chefmonteurdecisionenglish5-12-06.pdf]; and the “Revocation of Order
Authorizing Commencement of Operation & Authorization for Utilization of Gentilly
Landfill for Disposal of Hurricane Generated Construction and Demolition Debris,”
available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/Default.aspx?tabid=2403].
Gordon Russell, The Times-Picayune, “Chef Menteur landfill testing called a farce, Critics
say debris proposal ‘would be a useless waste of time,’” May 26, 2006.
In November 2005, EPA provided FEMA with a technical analysis and
recommendation for use of the Gentilly Landfill. In particular, EPA was responding
to “[q]uestions from federal elected officials and others [regarding] the issue of
potential Superfund liability of federal agencies engaged in hurricane response for
future cleanup of the landfill.”28 The memorandum discusses, among other points,
the background of the site, the permitting process, and the on-site process of
inspecting and separating waste. EPA concluded that there is no a way to protect
against future Superfund liability absolutely, particularly liability for a landfill.
However, EPA recommended that current operations take steps to continue good
operating practices and to document their activities, such as by posting signs clearly
identifying categories of acceptable waste, distributing leaflets to debris haulers
clearly identifying categories of acceptable waste, documenting current operating
safeguards, and publishing written procedures for segregating waste streams prior to
loading debris removal trucks, so that only non-hazardous materials are loaded into
trucks bound for the non-hazardous waste landfill.
To date, no similar technical analysis regarding Superfund liability has been
conducted for the Chef Menteur Landfill. However, a representative of the Louisiana
Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) submitted comments
to the Corps presenting the Service’s concerns regarding the operation of the landfill
and the types of waste being accepting there.29 Specifically, the Service expressed
concern that the operation of the Chef Menteur Landfill will pose a threat to the
adjacent Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. The comments state that
[The Service]... is primarily concerned about the potential secondary and indirect
effects of siting and operating construction/demolition debris (C&D) landfill at
[the Chef Menteur Landfill] location...Given the scope and nature of the flooding
events and the age of many of the buildings to be demolished and deposited in
the proposed landfill, we believe that the delivery of materials containing
numerous environmental contaminants, such as lead-based paint, asbestos,
creosote, arsenic-based wood treatment chemicals, various petroleum products,
and a variety of pesticides and household cleaning chemicals would be
unavoidable. Placement of such materials in an unlined landfill, particularly
within coastal wetlands, could potentially result in leaching and resultant
persistent contamination of ground water, surface water and adjacent wetland
Memorandum from George Pavlou, Senior Federal Official, New Orleans Field Office,
to John Connolly, Infrastructure Branch Chief, “Potential Federal CERCLA Liability for use
of the Gentilly Landfill for debris operations from Hurricane Katrina, FEMA-1603-DR-LA,
ESF#10 Task Order,” November 11, 2005, available online at [http://www.deq.louisiana.
May 19, 2006, letter from Russell C. Watson, Supervisor, Louisiana Field Office of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Colonel Richard P. Wagenaar, District Commander, U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. This letter is not available to the public online, but was provided
to CRS by The Times-Picayune after the publication of its June 6, 2006, article referring to
the letter (“Federal agency enters debate over landfill, Wildlife Service official calls for
liner, limits at Chef Menteur site,” available online at [http://www.nola.com/frontpage/
Further, the letter describes hydrological pathways that contaminated leachate from
the landfill could travel to reach the Refuge. It requests that a liner be installed at the
landfill or that restrictions be applied to waste being hauled there. Neither the Corps
nor LDEQ formally responded to the Service’s comments before the landfill was
Opponents of the use of the landfills filed suit to halt waste shipments to each
landfill. The first lawsuit, related to Gentilly, resulted in a settlement agreement
between the plaintiff (the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, LEAN) and
LDEQ that limits C&D shipments to 19,000 CY per day at the site.30 LDEQ cites the
settlement agreement limiting debris intake at the Gentilly Landfill, in part, for its
decision to use the Chef Menteur site.31 The available landfill capacity at the 100acre Chef Menteur site is 7.2 million CY of debris.32 It is estimated that the landfill,
when filled to capacity, would result in a debris pile 80 feet above surrounding
In the second lawsuit, related to Chef Menteur, the judge rejected the plaintiff’s
(LEAN’s) motion for a temporary restraining order that would have shut down the
landfill.34 However, on July 13, 2006, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin announced the
expiration of his emergency executive order allowing the operation of the Chef
Menteur Landfill effective August 14, 2006.35 Waste Management, Inc., the
company operating the landfill, asked a federal court to order the site to remain open,
but the judge refused its request for a temporary restraining order. Waste
Management subsequently stopped accepting waste at the site, on or about August
14, 2006, after receiving a cease and desist order from the mayor’s office. The
company now has the option of going through the permit application process (as
opposed to operating the site pursuant to an emergency permit issued by the mayor).
If Waste Management chooses to do so, it is anticipated that the permit request may
be denied by the New Orleans City Council, which is reportedly opposed to the
landfill.36 It is unknown at this time whether Waste Management will explore other
options to reopen the site (e.g., filing additional lawsuits).
Documents related to the suit, including the administrative order and settlement
agreement, are available online at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/Default.aspx?tabid=
See LDEQ’s “Justification for Utilization of Chef Menteur C&D Disposal Facility for the
Disposal of Hurricane-Generated Debris,” pp. 2-3.
Ibid, p. 8.
Russell Watson letter to the Corps (footnote 24).
The judge’s ruling is available online at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/tabid/2245/
See City of New Orleans Press Release, “Mayor Does Not Renew Executive Order
Landfill Set to Close August 14th,” available at [http://www.cityofno.com/portal.aspx?
Frank Donze, The Times-Picayune, “Denied reprieve, eastern N.O. landfill closes,”
August 16, 2006.
Another controversy regarding the Chef Menteur landfill involves a donation
agreement between the city of New Orleans and Waste Management. When Mayor
Nagin signed the agreement permitting operation of the Chef Menteur landfill, he
also signed a notarized agreement with Waste Management stating that the company
would “donate” 22% of the landfill’s revenues to the city of New Orleans.
On December 15, 2006, in response to a congressional inquiry, FEMA
determined that the donation agreement was not appropriate.37 Among other
findings, FEMA asserted that the agreements appeared to provide evidence that the
landfill operator’s “donation” of 22% of gross revenues was contingent on the city’s
approval to operate the landfill. FEMA notes that it did not require the city to pay
for debris removal necessitated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. However, FEMA
found that “the City should not profit from those debris removal operations,
especially when the profit (donations) appears to be at the federal government’s
Together with the fact that the disposal fees charged by the landfill operator
(called “tipping fees”) for the Chef Menteur landfill were significantly higher than
other local landfills, FEMA’s review indicates that the landfill operator passed the
cost of the “donations” to the Corps’ contractors. FEMA therefore determined that
the donations should be treated as a credit and deducted from the city’s final claim
for other disaster costs, effectively to reduce costs for the city’s debris removal.
Demolition of Private Properties
DHS estimates that hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed or sustained
major damaged by the storm and subsequent flooding.38 The degree to which cleanup
and, possibly, rebuilding may occur depends on the extent to which and when some
of those damaged structures will be demolished and removed.
Neither FEMA nor the Corps can unilaterally decide to demolish homes or
remove the debris from private property. That determination must be made by the
homeowner and involves a multi-step process involving property decommissioning
and condemnation. That process includes inspecting the structure, evaluating the
presence of hazardous substances and materials; testing for asbestos-containing
materials; removing and segregating regulated and hazardous substances and
materials; and transporting and disposing of hazardous waste streams.
Local governments have limited capabilities to oversee the complicated
documentation requirements that must be completed before a private structure can
be demolished. Further, demolition decisions are controversial and have social and
See December 15, 2006, memorandum from Tondra Hadley, Director DHS Central
Regional Office, Office of Disaster Assistance Oversight, to James Stark, Director, FEMA’s
Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office available online at [http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/
See the DHS, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, “Current
Housing Unit Damage Estimates,” February 12, 2006 (revised April 7, 2006), available at
political implications. It has been speculated by some that many residents will not
choose to allow their homes to be demolished, but may instead opt to repair or
rehabilitate their damaged homes.
Another complicating factor is the potential presence of human remains in some
of the destroyed homes. As a result, canine search teams must search debris before
it is removed. Also, demolition teams must use excavators to remove the homes in
layers instead of “bulldozing” them to prevent any human remains from being lost.
The number of private structures ultimately demolished will likely have the
greatest impact on the time it takes to complete debris removal operations. Many
questions must be answered before the extent of the demolition will be known. For
example, the plan for rebuilding New Orleans is still largely unknown. That plan
may specify areas in which rebuilding will not be allowed or where rebuilding may
be required to be elevated.
Asbestos in Buildings Being Demolished
The presence of asbestos-containing materials in damaged residential structures,
and the need to segregate that material before demolition and disposal, will add to the
time it takes to demolish individual structures. Both federal and state laws specify
criteria that must be met when demolishing a structure with asbestos-containing
materials.39 Further, Mississippi and Louisiana have each published their own
protocols for complying with state asbestos requirements, as they apply to the
destruction and cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.40 EPA is working closely with each
state and is providing debris management guidance to ensure minimization of
exposures while expediting cleanup. For example, EPA has advised states to make
efforts to segregate asbestos and certain other types of waste for proper disposal in
landfills prior to burning the debris.41
Not knowing how many structures will have asbestos, it is difficult to estimate
how much time may be added to the demolition process (and subsequent debris
The Clean Air Act (§ 112) establishes national emissions standards for hazardous air
pollutants (NESHAP), including asbestos. Individual states, in coordination with EPA, must
manage ACM in compliance with the asbestos NESHAP, with regard to asbestos removal
and disposal during building destruction and renovation (40 C.F.R. §§ 61.140-61.160).
See Mississippi DEQ’s “Policy for Handling Demolitions of Structures to Address
Potential Asbestos,” January 3, 2006, and “USA EPA ‘NAA Extension Letter,’” March 9,
2007, available at [http://www.deq.state.ms.us/MDEQ.nsf/page/Main_HurricaneKatrina
DisasterRecovery?OpenDocument]; Louisiana DEQ’s “LDEQ Protocol to Comply with the
LESHAP Regulations,” March 16, 2006, available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/
portal/Default.aspx?tabid=2251]; and the February 24, 2006, letter from Granta Nakayama,
EPA Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance, to Mike McDaniel,
Secretary, LDEQ, specifying EPA’s agreement with LDEQ regarding asbestos issues in
hurricane-affected areas, available at [http://www.deq.louisiana.gov/portal/tabid/2223/
EPA, Hurricane Katrina Response, Frequent questions, “Asbestos,” available at
removal process). However, it is a factor that was identified by the Corps as one that
would limit the ability to remove debris.42
On February 26, 2007, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
held a field hearing in New Orleans to address issues associated with hurricane
protection, wetlands restoration, and debris management in the aftermath of
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.43 The hearing included discussions on concerns about
landfill use in New Orleans, particularly the Gentilly and Chef Menteur landfills.
Also, on July 27, 2006, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Works held a hearing on the Stafford Act that, among other topics, looked at the
status of debris removal operations in the Gulf Coast area.44 The hearing included
discussions on the scope of the damage and volume of debris created by the storm;
the status of debris removal activities; concerns regarding the pace of debris removal
operations; and the role of federal agencies in the cleanup response, particularly as
they relate to Emergency Support Functions #3 and #10 under the National Response
Plan (discussed in Table A-2 in the Appendix, below). There have also been
hearings to discuss issues associated with the federal government’s contracting
policies, practices, preparations, and response to Hurricane Katrina, of which debris
removal efforts are a part.45
The need for funding for debris removal operations will continue as demolition
activities continue in the New Orleans metropolitan area. It is difficult to estimate
how long demolition will take, but it will likely take years to complete. After that,
the rebuilding itself will also generate a significant amount of construction debris.
This is likely to continue for several years.
The Corps, “Louisiana and City of New Orleans-Debris Removal and Demolition
Mission,” provided to CRS on March 16, 2006, and identified as materials used for
presentation to DHS, February 14, 2006.
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing “Moving Forward after
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” February 27, 2007, New Orleans, Louisiana, opening
statements and witness testimony available online at [http://epw.senate.gov/public/
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing “The Stafford Act: A Path
Forward for the Nation’s Emergency Preparedness and Response System,” July 27, 2006,
opening statements and witness testimony available online at [http://epw.senate.gov/
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “Hurricanes Katrina
and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Progress,” January 29, 2007, at [http://hsgac.senate.gov/
index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=415]; and House Committee on
Government Reform hearing No. 109-160, “Sifting Through Katrina’s Legal Debris,
Contracting in the Eye of the Storm,” May 4, 2006, at [http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/
Appendix. Types of Disaster Debris, Selected Issues/Concerns
with Removal, and a Summary of Selected Governmental Roles
in Post-Katrina Debris Removal Activities
Table A-1. Types and Examples of Disaster Debris
and Selected Issues/Concerns with Removal
Selected Issues/Concerns with Removal
and general household
Commonly, MSW is non-hazardous waste that is sent to landfills permitted to
accept such waste. After being submerged in flood waters, such waste may
have become contaminated with hazardous constituents that are essentially
impossible to separate or remove. In areas subject to flooding or storm surge,
MSW may include the entire contents of homes in that area.
Rotten or spoiled
seafood, or meats
Putrescibles are considered MSW, but must be removed as soon as possible to
avoid odor problems, environmental contamination, and rodent infestation.
When mixed with other MSW, as in flood conditions, they may contaminate
surrounding debris. Millions of pounds of food waste were generated in the
New Orleans area.
washers, dryers, stoves,
water heaters, and
After Hurricane Katrina, white goods such as refrigerators and freezers
contained rotten food that had to be removed before the appliances could be
recycled or otherwise disposed of. White goods containing freon (e.g.,
refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners) have to be properly drained of
freon before recycling or disposal.
Oil, pesticides, paints,
Where practical, it is usually preferable to collect HHW separately from
municipal waste to avoid sending large quantities to landfills that are not
intended to accept hazardous waste. However, in extensively flooded areas of
New Orleans, particularly where residents have not returned, containers may
have leaked and contaminated the surrounding debris. Homeowners have been
asked to separate HHW that has not leaked or spilled from other disaster
debris. However, in areas where homeowners have not returned, HHW may
become mixed with demolition waste.
Selected Issues/Concerns with Removal
roofing materials, and
C&D waste is generally considered a relatively benign type of waste. Such
waste is generally disposed of at specially designated C&D landfills but must
have toxic materials removed beforehand. Under normal conditions, separating
toxic materials from C&D waste is not a problem (other than adding to the
time it takes to demolish a structure). However, C&D waste generated in
flooded areas of New Orleans may be mixed with or be contaminated with
toxic substances such lead, asbestos, arsenic (in certain treated wood),
petroleum products, household hazardous waste, putrescibles, or mold.
Destruction may be so extensive that the separation of toxics is essentially
shrubs, and logs
Chipping and mulching vegetative waste for reuse or composting are preferred
methods of managing vegetative waste. However, when it is generated in
significant amounts, burning may be the primary viable management option.
Cars and trucks, fuel,
motor oil, batteries,
Tens of thousands of cars, trucks, and boats were abandoned in the New
Orleans area. Waste from those vehicles include metals that can be recycled.
Typically, auto-related wastes such as motor oil, gasoline, whole tires, and
batteries are prohibited from MSW landfills or are recycled.
printers, stereos, DVD
Electronic waste can typically be reused or recycled. However, this is not
feasible if the products have become contaminated with sewage or flood
waters. Such waste may include various hazardous components, such as lead
Source: Table prepared by CRS based on a review of Mississippi and Louisiana Departments of Environmental Quality disaster management plans.
Table A-2. Summary of Selected Governmental Roles
in Post-Katrina Debris Removal Activities
the Stafford Act/National Response Plan
Provide assistance to respond to the disaster, including
funding debris removal and the “demolition of unsafe
structures which endanger the public”; provide funding from
the Disaster Relief Fund to agencies with various Emergency
Support Functions (ESF) specified in the National Response
Plan (NRP); FEMA receives requests for assistance from
state representatives, and “mission assigns” the Corps to
perform specific tasks that are deemed eligible.
Debris removal missions under ESF#3,
Public Works and Engineering, and ESF #10,
Oil and Hazardous Materials Response,
involve an interagency and intergovernmental team that includes, among
many, the following agencies: FEMA, the
Corps, EPA (including regional offices), the
states of Louisiana and Mississippi, local
Parishes and counties, and the American Red
The Corps acts as the coordinator for ESF #3. The Corps’
mission includes right of way clearance, curbside pickup,
private property debris removal (PPDR), and property
demolition. Included within its ESF #3 mission is providing
personnel for the Corps’ debris removal team, obtaining a
contractor to execute the mission, and coordinating landfill
and burn site and the final disposal of debris.
Debris removal may be entirely the mission
of the Corps under its authority, or it may be
done by the local government and reimbursed
by FEMA (under the Stafford Act’s Public
Assistance [PA] program). In Louisiana, the
Corps has the ESF #3 mission in 21 parishes,
while 19 other parishes are conducting debris
removal on their own through the FEMA PA
program. In Mississippi, the Corps has the
ESF #3 mission in 15 counties, and 75 other
counties are conducting debris removal on
their own through the FEMA PA program.
The management of contaminated debris is coordinated with
EPA under ESF #10.
the Stafford Act/National Response Plan
Under ESF #3, EPA assists local agencies in locating disposal
sites for debris clearance activities and assists with
contaminated debris management activities by coordinating
and/or providing resources, assessments, data, expertise,
technical assistance, monitoring, and other appropriate
EPA is the lead federal agency under ESF #10. Under the
mission, FEMA funds EPA’s retrieval and disposal of orphan
tanks and drums and the collection of household hazardous
waste; the collection of liquid and semi-liquid waste has also
been tasked to ESF #10.
The states help coordinate local governmental requests for
federal assistance and work with FEMA to define the
mission. The Corps coordinates with state representatives
regarding operational issues.
Local agencies are responsible for providing Rights-of-Entry
permits to allow the Corps or its contractors to enter private
property for debris removal activities (within the Corps’
authority); establishing criteria and procedures for classifying
different types of debris; selecting disposal methods and
approving disposal operations; condemning properties;
providing demolition plans, and designating the appropriate
type of landfill.
EPA has worked with other federal agencies
(particularly the Corps), state agencies, and
local governments to facilitate the collection,
segregation, and management of household
hazardous waste. EPA has provided guidance
on identifying and disposing of electrical
equipment that may contain PCBs and on the
handling and disposal of debris containing
asbestos. EPA has also provided the affected
states with guidance on burning debris.
The Louisiana and Mississippi Departments
of Environmental Quality (LDEQ and
MDEQ, respectively) are the environmental
regulatory arms of the state government.
Each state is authorized to implement its own
solid and hazardous waste management
program, including siting and permitting
debris disposal sites.
State or local governments may choose to
accept the debris removal mission and apply
for reimbursement from FEMA (see the
Comments section regarding the Corps,
Each state is conducting debris removal operations in
accordance with declarations of emergency issued by its
respective Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and
in accordance with specific debris management plans issued
after the storm.
Source: Table prepared by CRS based on a review of selected provisions of the Stafford Act, ESFs #3 and #10 of the National Response Plan,
and debris management plans issued by the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality.