Feds Blocking the Cleanup Effort

by Wendy McElroy
Jun. 20, 2010

I remember after Hurricane Katrina, when the federal government forcibly blocked private aid (e.g. from the Red Cross and the Southern Baptists) from reaching New Orleans. Their attitude seemed to be "we can take care of it, we don't need your help."

That attitude is more flagrantly on display in the Obama administration. I heard in the early days of the BP disaster that the Dutch had offered to send oil-cleaning ships, and were rebuffed. Now more of the story is leaking out, and it isn't pretty -- a combination of overweening bureaucracy and a desire to score political points.

The Voice of America reports:
A Houston-based company is now cleaning oil off surface water in the Gulf of Mexico using sweeping arms that attach to a boat and help gather large amounts of oil. These sophisticated devices were provided by a Dutch company with years of experience in such operations, but instead of using the Dutch ships and crews immediately, when The Netherlands offered help in April, the operation was delayed until U.S. crews could be trained.

The Obama administration declined the Dutch offer partly because of the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from certain activities in U.S. waters. During the Hurricane Katrina crisis five years ago, the Bush administration waived the Jones Act in order to facilitate some foreign assistance, but such a waiver was not given in this case.
The Dutch also offered assistance with building sand berms (barriers) along the coast of Louisiana to protect sensitive marshlands, but that offer was also rejected, even though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had been requesting such protective barriers. Why? Some people assume an arrogant "not invented here" attitude -- "we're number one, we do disaster response better than anyone, we don't need no stinkin' help." Others suggest a different motivation:
So why not simply waive the act? Other presidents have under similar circumstances. George W. Bush waived the Jones Act following Hurricane Katrina, allowing foreign ships into Gulf waters to aid in the relief effort.

The explanation of Obama's reluctance to seek this remedy is his cozy relationship with labor unions. Joseph Carafano of the Heritage Foundation is quoted as saying, "The unions see it [not waiving the act] as ... protecting jobs. They hate when the Jones Act gets waived, and they pound on politicians when they do that. So ... are we giving in to unions and not doing everything we can, or is there some kind of impediment that we don't know about?"
However, even all-American ships and crews are not immune to federal obstructionism. From ABC News:
Sixteen barges sat stationary Thursday, although they had been sucking up thousands of gallons of BP's oil as recently as Tuesday. Workers in hazmat suits and gas masks pumped the oil out of the Louisiana waters and into steel tanks. It was a homegrown idea that seemed to be effective at collecting the thick gunk.

..."The Coast Guard came and shut them down," Jindal said. "You got men on the barges in the oil, and they have been told by the Coast Guard, 'Cease and desist. Stop sucking up that oil.'"

...But the Coast Guard ordered the stoppage because of reasons that Jindal found frustrating. The Coast Guard needed to confirm that there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board, and then it had trouble contacting the people who built the barges.
So there you have it: you'll clean up the Gulf on the feds' terms, on the feds' schedule, with the feds' approved equipment and people...or it won't get cleaned at all.







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