On June 30, The Heritage Foundation released a list of ten actions President Obama could immediately take to make a positive impact on the increasingly overwhelming Gulf oil spill. Since then, there has been some action on two of the items. The skimmer known as “A-Whale” is finally being tested in the Gulf, despite harsh weather. In fact, when weather was at its worst, the A-Whale was the only ship able to remain offshore, which is a promising sign. We hope the tests continue to prove its value and the ship is deployed as soon as possible. The State Department also announced some foreign assistance, but has yet to give a reason why it’s refusing other offers or why delays continue to hamper efforts.
The Obama administration continues to offer no visible signs that they are taking the oil spill seriously. Just today, their big announcement was that First Lady Michelle Obama would visit the region, soon, in the next couple weeks, maybe mid-July. The attitude of this White House is clear – ‘we don’t care’. To see for ourselves the potential damage of their inattention, we sent a team of energy, environment, homeland security and response experts to the Gulf. Within a few hours of landing in Louisiana, it was evident; the federal government is simply asleep at the switch when it comes to responding to this disaster. Our team was in Baton Rouge getting briefed by the National Guard, talking to officials in St. Bernards and Lafourche parishes, touring Port Fourchon, Grand Isle and more. As we collect information over the next few days, we will share our findings with you on The Foundry. Below are some items we plan to add to President Obama’s Oil Spill To-Do List:
1. End the Oil Drilling Moratorium…Really: Although lifting the moratorium was one of our initials tasks for the White House, it is a priority for those in the Gulf, and needs to be repeated, often. This is their economic way of life, and this was made clear by the Lafourche Port Commission, where 90 percent of the deepwater rigs are serviced. Lafourche has already been forced to cut rental rates 30 percent because of the moratorium and although federal judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued an injunction that would block the White House’s offshore drilling ban, the uncertainty of another ban from the Obama administration is keeping these rigs idle. Worse, four have already left and more could be headed out soon as they actively market their services elsewhere. Lifting the moratorium is causing the Gulf to suffer much more than it has to economically. It’s a priority for them to lift the ban and it needs to be a priority for the administration. The offshore drilling moratorium also means less money is coming into the state; money that would be used for coastal restoration – as written in a Louisiana state constitutional amendment. There is a long-term plan established to restore Louisiana’s coast and build its marshes, but without the revenue received from offshore drilling, it won’t be done.
2. Assign a High-Level Federal Official to Oversee the Disaster: The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was not set up for an oil spill of this magnitude. Consequently, we see ineffective management and circular and conflicting decisions being made among BP, the Coast Guard, the Fish and Wildlife Services and the Mineral Management Services – to name a few. Decision makers are afraid to make a decision one way or another, and when a decision is made, it’s contested by someone else. Sharing of the top-management decision-making breeds inaction. Assigning a high-level federal official to oversee the disaster will remove some of the bureaucracy and amending the OPA will ensure management sharing does not happen again, if another spill of this magnitude were to occur. A top level political official accountable to the people and who holds significant White House influence is now necessary.
3. Save the Marshes, Wetlands, Lakes and Estuaries: Plans to protect the coastline’s fragile environment from the oil spill by building rock jetties, dykes and sand berms have been continually rejected due to fears that it will damage the coastline and the wildlife, as well as permitting delays and red tape. There needs to be a greater priority in protecting the environment and people of the Gulf. Rock jetties, dykes and sand berms can be built up, and then they can be taken down when they are no longer needed – and BP should pay for this in its entirety. Even so, the government has offered no alternatives of how to protect oil from spreading inland, which would not only affect the people but precious marshlands. And when the oil does get into those marshlands, the BP-contracted company to manage the clean up nixed any ideas of cleaning the marshes for fear that stepping on the oil will bury it deeper into the marshes. Shallow water vessels would be effective at cleaning up the marshes but thus far has been rejected. The local experts with knowledge of the area want to protect and clean the marshes. If they aren’t allowed to do so, they should be told why and they should be given alternatives so the people and the environment do not suffer further. The government needs to approve projects immediately and streamline the permitting process.
4. Make the Claims Process Transparent: BP has said it will pay for those indirectly affected by the oil spill. The claims process should be set up in a way that ensures people receive what they are owed and not receive what they do not deserve. The claims process needs to be efficient and transparent. Currently, states don’t have adequate visibility on claims. They simply get data on numbers and dollars, leaving them unable to know if their constituencies are being addressed.
5. Allow the Entrepreneurs to Help: The Environmental Protection Agency and the administration have been way too risk averse in allowing help to clean up the oil. Not only are groups and organizations being sent letters of rejection or told to sit idle in the water to make sure the technology is EPA-approved, it is reducing the incentive for people to even bring ideas to the table. We need to be less risk averse when cleaning the oil up. Allow the technologies that can effectively clean the oil up to do so and then expand that technology. Get the ones that fail out of the water.
Lack of response, lack of coordination, and lack of explanation were the themes resonating from meetings today in Louisiana. The mission of the trip is to bring back to-do items to make our administration respond more adequately to such an economic and environmental disaster. What we heard is that the administration is not truly focused on the problem at hand but instead focused on bureaucratic process. This has to change, and if the administration is to save any credibility that they are capable of managing a disaster, the president needs to start acting.
Our Live from the Gulf series is brought to you by our team of energy, environment, homeland security and response experts:
James Carafano: Deputy Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
Jack Spencer: Policy Director, Energy and Environment, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
Nick Loris: Research Assistant, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
Rory Cooper: Director of Strategic Communications