MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - In his first Capitol press conference, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for wasting $70 million worth of ice.
FEMA bought 224.3 million pounds of ice in 2005 to help victims of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and for the 2006 hurricane season, when it wasn't needed. The ice was stored in Memphis and 22 other towns across the country. The company storing the ice began melting it earlier this month after FEMA determined it had outlived its shelf life.
"It is appalling to learn of the waste of $67 million in taxpayer money for the purchase, transportation and storage of ice," Cohen wrote in a letter to agency director R. David Paulison Wednesday. "That an additional $3.4 million is being paid to melt the ice is unconscionable. To consider such waste a part of doing business is a slap in the face of hardworking Americans whose taxes pay our salaries."
The Memphis Democrat, who sits on the House subcommittee that oversees FEMA, also criticized the agency for talking to a New York television station about the issue before answering his formal inquiry.
The Memphis storage facility that had kept the ice placed it outside to melt two weeks ago, and Cohen said he saw people carting it away. He is concerned that the ice may not have been fit for human consumption, but FEMA took no steps to prevent people from taking it.
FEMA has said it will no longer make bulk purchases of ice.
During the press conference, Cohen occasionally sipped from an ice-filled glass.
"On a hot day," he said, "ice is good."