Each of us will be remembered for what we did, not for what we hoped to do. President Obama is discovering the limits of hoping as a leadership strategy as he faces withering criticism of his response to the BP spill.
I’m not going to fault the President for the speed of his response; or for failing to emote enough to satisfy those who want an Oprah-in-Chief to run the country. Like just about everyone else who has penned a word on the catastrophe, I don’t have a clue how to cap the leak or contain the spill.
But I know who does - a handful of Belgian and Dutch companies who operate fleets of special vessels which have been used to contain spills around the world. There are over 50,000 oil wells on the ocean floor – do you think this is the first to blow?
Do you remember those dreadful scenes of oil-drenched Norwegian fiords, or the helpless birds stuck in the ooze in
Kuwait, or the miles and miles of black gunk
layered over the beaches of Saudi, ,
and UAE? That’s right, you don’t - because
when those underwater wells blew, these foreign fleets scooped up all the oil
before it ever hit shore. Dubai
As soon as the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the Dutch and Belgians and eleven other countries immediately offered to send their oil-sucking fleets to the Gulf, but President Obama refused to allow it. The use of these vessels is prohibited by the Jones Act, and unlike past Presidents in times of crisis, he has refused to waive it.
The Jones Act is a 1920 law that prohibits the use of foreign vessels and crews to transport cargo between
ports. It can be waived by Presidential order at his
discretion. It was enacted to protect union shipbuilding jobs, although like
all protectionist measures, it has had just the opposite effect and we now
produce less than 1% of the world’s ships. At this point, it is pure symbolism. U.S.
Among the types of ships that we don’t build are the specialty craft which contain and clean up oil spills. We will never know whether or not those foreign crews could have prevented the BP oil from making landfall – they say they would have, and I have no reason to doubt their optimism.
The point is that this all might have been prevented, and it certainly would have been greatly mitigated, if Mr. Obama had simply allowed them to help. The President had the authority to waive the Act and he refused. That is 100% on him.
The White House explanation is beyond stupid; EPA’s Browner and HHS Napolitano have issued “clarifications” that that no waivers have been requested by foreign operators. Technically true; but two days after Katrina, HHS Secretary Chertoff requested a blanket waiver and George Bush signed it that day. Issuing procedural clarification memos is hardly forceful executive leadership, and I believe the Dutch, who say the Jones Act was a reason the State Department turned them down.
Here’s the deal: when faced with the most horrific ecological crisis in
history, this President could not bring himself to cross the imaginary picket
line in his head. He chose to make a meaningless
and symbolic gesture of solidarity to union bosses who bankroll his Party and
throw the ecology and the economy of the Gulf under the bus. That’s it.
Liberals, write this down: Obama did that. Your guy.
Not BP, not Haliburton, not George W. Bush, not Dick Cheney, not capitalism, not Libertarians, Republicans, or the Tea Party. If the President is still looking around for a butt to kick, he should practice standing on one foot. No need for him to get all furious, we have already done that job for him.
His decision is unforgivable. When we see the pictures of the dying birds and the fish rotting on the shore, we need to remember why it came to this: he could have waived the Act, but he refused. Let that knowledge haunt you; it should.
Waiving the Act would not cost a single union job to be lost, anyway. Even if it doesn’t help now, it would take away BP’s certain defense against the tort claims that will tie up courts for the next 30 years – “well, we were going to clean it all up 50 miles offshore but then this guy (points to the ex-President) refused to waive the Jones Act”.
I checked the websites of the Gulf coast unions subsidized by the Jones Act to see if perhaps one of them might have the decency to appeal to the President to save the beaches and estuaries of the neighborhoods most of them live in, but they are strangely silent on this subject. Saving their moral outrage for Card Check, no doubt.
But you shouldn’t be silent. You should contact the White House, your elected Representatives, and anyone who will listen to demand that President Obama waive the Jones Act and allow these foreign specialists to come in and help minimize the damage from the BP spill.
There isn’t much we can do about the crisis in the Gulf, but this is something.
“Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment.