Morning Bell: Oil Spill Response is “Stuck on Stupid”

Rory Cooper /

If you only listened to President Obama, you wouldn’t even know an oil spill is occurring in the Gulf. He hasn’t spoken publicly about the oil spill since June 22 when he announced it was on a laundry list of items discussed at a cabinet meeting. Before that, on June 16, he spoke briefly after negotiating his secret liability deal with BP. Other than those two instances, the president hasn’t spent another public moment focusing on the spill since he began fighting the “battle” against “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced” from the Oval Office four weeks ago.

The media not only haven’t asked him a question about the crisis, they have been complicit in its degradation, allowing the president to ignore the plight of his fellow Americans without journalistic oversight. In less than two weeks, we’ll hit Day 100, and the media will regain focus for the arbitrary and news-friendly date, but what will they cover on Day 101? And imagine BP manages to cap the leak – as we all pray occurs – without the streaming video of oil gushing, how much attention will the national media and the president give to the remaining environmental and economic crisis?

The Heritage Foundation sent a team of experts to Louisiana last week to see first-hand the crisis and the coordinated response. Based on earlier reports, our expectations were low. However, the federal government’s involvement turned out to be so much worse.

The first thing we actually heard from every single Louisianan we spoke with had nothing to do with the capping or cleanup of the oil — it was the devastating impact of the Obama drilling moratorium. Legally, the moratorium has been struck down in two major court decisions, yet the administration continues on, trying to reshape it to survive future hearings, and creating the necessary uncertainty for a de facto moratorium to exist anyway.

As Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said: “We have very serious concerns that the Department of Interior is going to announce a second moratorium. As members of the court pointed out today during the hearing, despite the injunction against the original moratorium, we currently have a de facto moratorium because of uncertainty from the Department of Interior.”

You would think the seafood industry would support the ban on drilling, since oil is now threatening their way of life, but not so. In fact, the shrimpers and fishers are some of the biggest advocates for ending the ban so the Louisiana economy does not suffer any more, and so more jobs aren’t lost. As one official told us, first the fisherman had to figure out how to pay his bills. Now his brother’s family is going hungry. President Obama needs to categorically end his assault on the economy of Louisiana. Now is not the time for politics.

Ironically, royalties from offshore drilling in Louisiana are designated by the state constitution to pay for critical infrastructure protection and coastal restoration. The longer this drilling moratorium continues, the longer Louisiana has to wait to protect itself from future disasters. Eric Smith, an energy expert at Tulane University, pointed out that the moratorium also increases the risk of a spill because that threat increases every time you start and stop operations. Smith also pointed out that putting two to three independent safety inspectors on each rig, paid for by the oil companies, would be a low-cost alternative to the moratorium.

Offshore platforms are already leaving the Gulf, and many more are marketing their services elsewhere. Once they leave, it may be years, if not decades, before they return. And if they do return, it will be at added cost due to the potential for more broken contracts.

The second item we heard most often was that unnecessary federal permitting delays were making environmental and economic protection impossible. The marshes, waters and estuaries make up a complicated eco-system that protects south Louisiana from flooding and prevents oil from reaching inland. Yet, without the ability to build rock jetties, dykes and sand berms, the environment is going unprotected. Why? Because the left absurdly believes the protective measures might cause long-term damage, despite assurances that all measures are temporary, could be removed, and BP would pay for it. Ignoring this crisis in favor of a mythical one 30 years away must end, today.

Local officials are positive that plans they have had in place for years will work, and that shallow water vessels exist that minimize potential long term impacts. In the last ten years, these same communities have helped build 700 acres of new protective marsh. President Obama needs to listen to their input and stop the delays.

We also discovered that response crews are being prevented from working at night or for more than 20 minutes out of every hour. And apparently, those 20 minutes an hour aren’t even in shifts, but total stoppages. Louisiana fishermen are no strangers to working at night, or long hours. BP could easily afford the GPS, maps and lights needed to extend work hours. But so far, the daily response time to this crisis is simply unbalanced to the disaster itself.

If you’ve seen the broken well, you know that the oil spill itself isn’t taking mandated breaks. President Obama needs to explain what is preventing a 24/7 response and what actions he can take to change that; if his hands are tied, he needs to ensure the manpower can be tripled to make up for the ineffective labor schedules.

We also saw many other areas where the federal government is simply making matters worse. President Obama’s commission examining the spill has no industry or local expertise, but is instead loaded with environmentalists searching for a justification to institute cap and trade energy taxes.

We saw how entrepreneurs are being discouraged from offering solutions, and when offered, are met with months of red tape. We observed a claims process begging for transparency. Overall, we witnessed the need for a strong political leader that can be held accountable for the keystone-cop federal effort.

Ineptitude. Incompetence. Inattention. We heard these themes consistently as we traveled across the Gulf, but perhaps the best description came from a local Louisiana official who told our team that the federal response was “stuck on stupid.” Indeed.

For more from our ‘Live from the Gulf‘ series documenting the oil spill and the federal response, please click here.

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