The Corner

The Gulf Disaster

This New York Times account of all that went wrong with the BP disaster is excellent. Toward the end it deals with the government response:

Under intense media scrutiny, at least a dozen federal agencies have taken part in the spill response, making decision-making slow, conflicted and confused, as they sought to apply numerous federal statutes.

In one stark example of government disputes, internal e-mail messages from the minerals agency obtained by The Times reveal a heated debate over whether to ignore some federal environmental laws about gas emissions in an effort to speed the drilling of relief wells.

One agency official, Michael Tolbert, warned colleagues on April 24 that emissions of nitrous oxide from the well were “pretty far over the exemption level,” an issue that his colleague Tommy Broussard said could result in “BP wasting time” on environmental safeguards in a way that would be “completely stupid.”

But a third colleague, Elizabeth Peuler, intervened to demand that the agency take “no shortcuts.”

“Not even for this one,” she said. “Perhaps even especially for this one.”


Debates over the speed — or lack thereof — of the government response have also played out in Louisiana, where state officials spent much of May repeatedly seeking permission from the federal government to construct up to 90 miles of sand barriers to prevent oil from reaching the wetlands.

For three weeks, as the giant slick crept closer to shore, officials from the White House, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency debated the best approach.

They ultimately approved the use of only one barrier, called a berm, to be paid for by BP.

Comparing the federal government’s response to “telling a drowning man to wait,” Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana asked: If one berm is safe, then why not the 23 others that he had requested? Slowly, the federal government approved more berms.

Yet more:

From the start, BP had played down the extent of the problem in miscalculating the rate of the leak and in denying the existence of underwater oil plumes. By deferring to the company, federal officials underestimated the problem they were facing and thus what was needed to respond to it.

It took more than a week after the explosion for the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, to declare, on April 29, “a spill of national significance” a legal categorization that was needed before certain federal assistance could be authorized.

Because of such delays, critics have charged, more coastline will be hit, more animals will die, more habitats will be ruined and more money will be lost in tourism, fishing and real estate.


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