Politics & Policy

Gulf State Officials Should Defy Obstructionist Feds

In the oil-spill cleanup, Obama has been detached, while his fusspot bureaucrats have been all too busy.

Crude oil has reached Lake Pontchartrain. How did it get there? Ask the listless Obama administration, which rarely misses a chance to put its collective feet up on the desk, even as petroleum batters the Gulf Coast, its wildlife, and the economies of the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and (as of Sunday) Texas shorelines.

Now that a half-ton of tar balls, oil sheen, and other waste has seeped into Lake Pontchartrain, the majestic city of New Orleans essentially is surrounded by a crescent of petroleum to its south, east, and north.

This would be bad enough if the federal government were toiling away to protect New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and its neighbors from BP’s oil geyser, which has gushed some 4.86 million barrels of raw petroleum over the past 81 days. Instead, the Obama administration repeatedly has prevented state and local officials from trying to save the people, habitat, and creatures of this precious part of the American landscape.

‐ Most recently, Louisiana officials were stunned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected their proposal for rock barriers to keep oil out of Barataria Bay, an estuary popular with local fish and wildlife. These non-toxic rocks, the Corps fretted, might rechannel tidal flows in a potentially damaging way. Well, maybe. But if your house is burning down during an electrical storm, go ahead and call 911. Don’t sit there paralyzed in fear because a lightning bolt might electrocute you as you phone the fire department.

“Only a government bureaucrat would say rocks are more harmful to our water than oil,” Gov. Bobby Jindal (R., La.) told the Baton Rouge Advocate. The Corps on Saturday nixed Jefferson Parish’s request to build five rock dikes in passes leading to Barataria Bay. “The Corps took weeks to review the plan only to reject it today, and this denial is another unfortunate example of the federal government’s lack of urgency in this war to protect our coast,” Jindal added.

“One of the things that really gets me is they didn’t offer us an alternative plan and they didn’t offer us a plan of their own,” Grand Isle mayor David Camardelle remarked. “They just said, ‘No.’”

‐ Early in this crisis, Jindal asked Washington if Louisiana could build sand barriers to protect the sensitive shoreline that yields so many of the oysters, shrimp, and fish that delight diners from the French Quarter to the Golden Gate. While BP’s oil slick crept towards the coast, the Environmental Protection Agency pondered this request. After researching its collective navel for five weeks, EPA finally vetoed the sand barriers, presumably because sand ruins a shrimp’s day far more than does petroleum. By then, the oil had washed in, which made the whole point painfully moot.

‐ In mid-June, the Interior Department and the Corps of Engineers blocked yet another sand-berm proposal, this time because the sand allegedly would threaten birds on Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands.

“The Department of the Interior’s continued insistence that this dredge area is a bird rookery makes it clear that they are confused about what it is that they are protecting — and perhaps have never been to the Chandeleurs at all,” complained Garrett Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “There isn’t a place for a bird to land for over a mile away.”

‐ Three days into this catastrophe, Holland offered to dispatch four state-of-the-art skimmer boats to help mop up this mess. This group of boats could collect 146,000 barrels of oil daily, more than double the entire amount spewing from the crippled well. Despite such promise, the Obama administration told the Dutch to keep their boats to themselves. As Dutch consul general Geert Veeser told Radio Netherlands, Team Obama’s reply was: “Thanks for your help, but at the moment we can manage ourselves. And that was it.”

“After a seven-week delay, the U.S. government finally reconsidered the offer and the Dutch ships have been permitted to operate in the Gulf,” explained a July 1 report by the House Government Oversight Committee. “This bureaucratic delay prevented the cleanup of more than 7 million barrels of oil at the source, which is more than 100 times the volume that BP reported collecting in the same timeframe. Deploying the Dutch skimmers immediately might have prevented the oil from ever reaching Louisiana’s shores.”

As early as May 5, twelve other nations and the U.N. volunteered to send boats, equipment, and personnel. The Obama administration rejected them all. In fact, thanks to federal impediments, a group of Norwegian skimmers steaming toward the Gulf actually had to turn around, even though David Dysart, St. Bernard Parish’s homeland-security director, said he and his colleagues were “salivating over the prospect of getting this equipment.”

Not until Day 70 (June 29) did the State Department finally accept less than half of the assistance offered by 27 countries and six international agencies. As if he had morphed into the Left’s smuggest caricature of George “Go It Alone” Bush, Obama embraced a destructive unilateralism rather than a multilateral approach that would have helped the environment along with working-class fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermongers.

Luckily for Obama’s Big Labor allies and contributors, the Jones Act proved more durable than did the levees in Hurricane Katrina. This protectionist law remained in place for nearly two and a half months, shielding American skimmer-boat and relief-vessel crews from any of those pesky overseas sailors who were so eager to help.

‐ According to Radio Netherlands, the EPA barred some vessels that suck in contaminated seawater, remove most of the oil, and then squirt water overboard, because that treated water remains slightly oily, although far less so than the black and red slicks that darken the waves. The boneheads at the EPA could not recognize that these ships discharge marginally oily water as the result of a valuable filtration process. After about two months of such lunacy, the EPA finally relented, and these floating vacuum cleaners are now moving into place.

‐ The Coast Guard, reports Winston Groom in The Weekly Standard, shuttered a dozen barges for much of June 18. They successfully had been sucking oil from the Gulf’s surface, but the Coast Guard said it wanted to make sure that these vessels carried enough life vests and fire extinguishers. How stupid. Why not hand out such gear, if it’s needed, in the morning, as these barges set sail? Alternatively, why not visit these boats while they are on duty, hand the crews any emergency gear they require, and then speed out of the way?

‐ OSHA regulations are alive and well on Gulf beaches. Even the most enthusiastic clean-up workers frequently must stop scrubbing the sands free of oil. Long, mandatory breaks punctuate what should be a relentless campaign to save the Gulf Coast. Every 20 minutes of work must yield to 40 minutes of rest. Every 40 minutes of cumulative labor, in turn, triggers an unbroken hour off duty.

“No-Drama Obama” could halt such counterproductive nonsense by knocking heads together and instructing the eco-crats in his organizational chart to get the job done or stand down and let others do so. This is called leadership. Obama should look into it.

If Rudolph W. Giuliani were president, Louisiana’s barriers would have been built soon after the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, killing eleven oil-rig workers and launching this catastrophe. A President Giuliani would have welcomed foreign assistance (just as Mayor Giuliani applauded international firefighters at Ground Zero), especially from high-tech boats that could have stopped deadly oil slicks as they floated relatively harmlessly for weeks before touching the tide line. Giuliani would have told union laborers that there is more than enough work for everybody in this national calamity; if our foreign friends want to help us defeat this slippery enemy, then move them to the front lines.

Rather than a competent manager, America has a chief executive with a golden tongue, some elegant suits, and an inability to guide his administration. The feds should assist, not impede, local and state leaders as they try to shield their constituencies from this venomous sea monster. While one might forgive a certain amount of confusion early on, it is inexcusable and appalling that Obama-administration officials told Jefferson Parish last Saturday that it could not use rocks as a temporary prophylactic against incoming crude oil.

Team Obama, the Washington bureaucracy, and their field agents pose a clear and present danger to the Gulf Coast’s entire population — both humans and wildlife. With tar balls as big as ping-pong balls now soiling Galveston, Texas — making this a five-state crisis — the region’s mayors and governors should respond to this emergency by openly defying federal officials who demand inaction while pelicans gag on oil and oysters drown in BP sauce.

Jefferson Parish should deploy those rocks. Louisiana should shift that sand into place. If Washington keeps restricting prospectively helpful foreign ships, as it still is doing, Gulf Coast governors should invite them to sail into position to protect their states’ sovereign shores.

And if the feds want to prevent these American citizens from saving people, property, and wildlife from 60,000 barrels of fresh petroleum daily, let Team Obama go down there and physically stop them.

Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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