"Obama's Katrina" is not a metaphor

Certainly the biggest blemish on the legacy of George W. Bush is the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans. He was held directly responsible for the seemingly unorganized and slow disaster response by FEMA. He was further criticized for seeming aloof and unconcerned during the weeks following the disaster.

But unlike Hurricane Katrina, where the bulk of disaster preparedness and first responder tasks were specifically assigned to state and local governments, the response and cleanup efforts following the recent deadly explosion and oil spill at a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico are directly in the hands of the Federal government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security as the managing agency, and the US Coast Guard as first responders.

A Coast Guard veteran emailed Hugh Hewitt after his Friday radio program, and stated:

You are correct about the BP spill. The response has been grossly inadequate. This is inexplicable. The National Contingency Plan (40 CFR 300) and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) put the federal government in charge of an oil spill. Yes BP is the responsible party (RP) but the RP pays for the spill response. The NCP requires the use of unified command with the RP, the affected state and the federal On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) as the Incident Commanders. In this case the Coast Guard is the OSC. You don’t waste time pinning everything on the RP. The NCP requires one response organization and the RP is a part of that. You can’t separate the RP from the OSC. For the DHS Secretary to blame them shows her ignorance of the policies her own department is supposed to follow.

“The type of things we’re seeing go wrong with this spill are the types of things that used to happen prior to OPA 90. This is simply inexcusable.

According to a former oil spill manager at NOAA, the government should have acted immediately after the explosion:

The Mobile Register reports that Ron Gouget, who formerly managed the oil spill cleanup department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as a similar unit for the state of Louisiana, is criticizing the Obama White House’s failure to act according to existing government plans in the event of a spill in the area now being deluged with thousands of barrels of crude oil every day.

Gouget said when he was at NOAA, the agency created a plan that required burning off an oil spill in the region in its earliest stage, if the prevailing winds would not push the smoke and soot from the operation inland. The plan is still in effect, but was not activated last week by NOAA.

“They had pre-approval. The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away instead of waiting ten days to get permission,” Gouget told the Register. “If you read the pre-approval plan, it speaks about Grand Isle, where the spill is. When the wind is blowing offshore out of the north, you have preapproval to burn in that region. If the wind is coming onshore, like it is now, you can’t burn at Grand Isle. They waited to do the test burn until the wind started coming onshore.”

When the Register asked Gouget why federal officials waited for a week before conducting even a test burn, he said, “Good question. Maybe complacency was the biggest issue. They probably didn’t have the materials on hand to conduct the burn, which is unconscionable.”

And there’s a lot more from Doug Ross, who writes:

…the White House response has consisted of dispatching lawyers to New Orleans and shutting down other rigs that have nothing to do with the BP disaster. On April 30th — ten days after the catastrophic explosion — the oil and gas news site RigZone reported that the White House had forbidden new drilling.

Ross has also put together a nice illustrated time line that chronicles the disaster as it unfolded over the last two weeks, and President Obama’s complete detachment from it.

We should be reminded that when Hugo Chavez took over Venezuela’s state-owned crude oil production company and began sacking its long-time managers and engineers, replacing them with his own cronies, the number of breakdowns, spills, and fires in Venezuela’s oil fields increased dramatically. That’s not surprising, because bureaucrats and political toadies are magnificent at creating bigger bureaucracies and funneling cash into their own pockets, but they are very inept when it comes to solving real world problems.

And so it is with the Obama Administration, even to a greater extent than the cronyism-plagued Bush White House. So far, the DHS and Coast Guard’s slow and uncoordinated responses seem to be right in line with the bumbling efforts of FEMA’s Michael Brown after the Katrina disaster. But don’t expect other Democrats or the press (pardon the redundancy) to pillory the Obama White House about the performance of its appointees or Cabinet members.

Note: My colleague HughS already quoted Gouget in an earlier piece, but I felt the quote was worth repeating in this context as well. And make sure you read Shawn Mallow’s excellent piece as well.

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