Critics of Federal response to oil spill
A few weeks a go, I wrote that critics of Obama’s handling of the oil spill were “uninformed, unfair, and unwarranted”. Now I would like to modify that charge by adding “disingenuous”, and intellectually dishonest, as well.
Unfortunately, the critics have gained considerable, and unwarranted, traction, because the American public seems to agree with them as polls indicate. But before I defend the Federal intervention into this tragedy, one salient fact has to be headlined: the Federal government of the United States is not in the oil clean up business! It never has been, and even in the future probably will not be. The reasons are many – some a direct result of the dereliction of those who are criticizing the most.
Contrary to the critics, the Coast Guard was on the scene by midnight of the day of the explosion. That’s about as fast as the service (responsible for all our ports, search and rescue, patrolling our seaways and more) could have responded. It is now variously estimated that the government and BP have dozens of ships, and an estimated 1500 personnel (including 700 Coast Guardsmen) working over the spill area, 24/7. In fact, the area over the spill could not handle much more traffic. Additionally, between the Federal government and BP something like 30-40,000 clean up workers have been hired.
Shortly after the spill, Obama assembled a “National Response Team’ (which is described in their website) consisting of all the following 14 agencies attempting to mitigate the damage:
U.S. National Response Team Member Agencies:
Chair: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Vice Chair: U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Department of Labor
U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of Defense U.S. Department of Transportation
U.S. Department of Energy U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services U.S. General Services Administration
U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
As diligent, devoted and helpful as this team may be, the one salient fact remains: the Federal government is not in the business of oil clean ups, and the only cure regardless of effort is stopping the leak. This is something the Federal government cannot do (apparently no one can), and frustration directed toward the government is misguided and totally unreasonable.
One of the constant complaints often heard is that our government has “turned down valuable foreign assistance”. There are several responses to this critique. First, is the little known but important Jones Act. This Act refers to several provisions of federal law that reserve certain maritime services within American domestic waters for U.S.-built, U.S.-owned, and U.S.-crewed vessels (for both protection of our shores, and to provide jobs first for American workers). Almost every nation has similar laws, which are known as cabotage laws. That said, there is nothing prohibiting assistance outside our 3 mile domestic limit, and the U.S. State Department has said that “[a] number of offers of assistance have been accepted,” including Mexican skimmers, Norwegian skimming systems and other assets from Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Jones Act does not even apply to skimming operations outside of 3 miles from shore, so those who wish to assist may do so. For the critics who may want to abrogate Jones Act protection, please note two other countries who have offered to enter our shores. First, is Cuba (who has a vested interest in the Caribbean). The second is Iran. Head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi said recently in a meeting with Swiss Ambassador to Tehran Livia Leu Agosti, “Despite the aggressive US stance towards the Iranian nation, Iran is ready to help put an end to the spill because of severity of the environmental catastrophe,” Any takers on this offer?
Meanwhile, the response to the spill from Governor Bobby Jindal and the state of Louisiana – the loudest complainers and critics-has been weak, negligent, and dishonest at best. On May 2, 12 days after the explosion, Jindal finally assembled his response team. The fact is, Louisiana – which has a major stake in oil production and safety, had zero spill response and prevention plans in place. Here is the Louisiana Preparedness Plans: as shown on their own website:
To lead and support Louisiana and its citizen in the preparation for response and recovery for all emergencies and disasters.
It then goes on to list all the emergencies and disasters covered. They are:
Note: not one word or plan for oil spills! However, on May 2, Jindal did direct his team to deal with the spill. At that meeting the team reported the following (abbreviated for space):
In an effort to assist the removal of oil from our coastal water…the State of Louisiana provides the following initial near-shore action plan
- Immediately deploy booms * Utilize local fishing fleets for transport, monitoring and deployment of boom * Establish regional staging areas * Order and begin to store necessary supplies *Inventory, identify and organize multiple shore bases. * Prepare shore bases to store and handle recovery materials. * Organize professional, contract, and volunteer teams * Train local fisherman and others to be involved in clean up effort
This is as tepid and ineffective a response as possible, 12 days late, and mostly booms, staging, inventory, and training. What’s worse, at the suggestion of the Federal response team, Jindal and the other Gulf state governors were urged to call out 17,500 National Guard troops to assist. Here is what Jindal and his neighboring governors have done about this urgent suggestion. Nearly two months after the governor requested – and the Department of Defense approved the use of 6,000 Louisiana National Guard troops-only a fraction (1,053) have actually been deployed by Jindal to fight the spill. CBS News also reported that in addition to Louisiana’s 1,053 troops of 6,000, Alabama has deployed 432 troops of 3,000 available. Even fewer have been deployed in Florida – 97 troops out of 2,500 – and Mississippi – 58 troops out of 6,000.
Obama quickly placed a 6 month moratorium on further deep water drilling – an eminently sensible, intelligent response considering it was clear that drilling at extraordinarily deep depths was not sufficiently safe. The residents of the Gulf States reacted with anger (and got the ban reversed). What is lost here is the fact that there presently are over 6300 shallow and producing platforms in the Gulf, and they are continuing to operate with tens of thousand of oil workers In fact, the most current estimate is that there are only 13-17 remaining deep water drilling rigs in the Gulf, and they are the ones affected. The absurdity of demanding more deep water drilling in that fragile and ravaged sea can best be described by a famous Bushism: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”
Obama inherited a government that had absolutely no preparedness plans for oil spills – and that lack of a response mechanism was in place from virtually every administration before him, Moreover, the duplicity of his critics is exacerbated by the fact that had he actually proposed such a preparedness plan, with perhaps a price tag of billions of dollars, the Republicans in Congress would never have voted money for an oil spill that perhaps “might” happen. But now that dereliction is one the Palins, Becks, Limbaughs, Hannitys, and even Boehner and McConnell are eagerly and disingenuously attacking.
Regarding the critics, four points are eminently clear. First, as previously noted the Federal government is not, has not, and has never been in the oil spill cleanup business. Secondly, whatever response the Federal government can muster is actively being pursued with tens of thousands of workers, and billions of dollars (to be reimbursed by BP), currently in play. Third, the duplicity of many of the critics is apparent in the dilatory actions of the states themselves, in this historic environmental tragedy. And finally, there is the irony that those who rail against more and bigger government, are the very ones who can’t get more of it and fast enough, now.