Obama’s big oil spill bungle

It’s one thing to say that Obama’s administration showed ineptitude and mismanagement in its handling of the Gulf oil spill. It is quite another to grasp the situation up close, as I did during a recent visit to Alabama.

According to state disaster relief officials, Alabama conceived a plan — early on — to erect huge booms offshore to shield the approximately 200 miles of the state’s coastline from oil. Rather than install the relatively light and shallow booms in use elsewhere, the state (with assistance from the Coast Guard) canvassed the world and located enough huge, heavy booms — some weighing tons and seven meters high — to guard their coast.

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But … no sooner were the booms in place than the Coast Guard, perhaps under pressure from the public comments of James Carville, uprooted them and moved them to guard the Louisiana coastline instead.

So Alabama decided on a backup plan. It would buy snare booms to catch the oil as it began to wash up on the beaches.

But … the Fish and Wildlife Administration vetoed the plan, saying it would endanger sea turtles that nest on the beaches.

So Alabama — ever resourceful — decided to hire 400 workers to patrol the beaches in person, scooping up oil that had washed ashore.

But … OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) refused to allow them to work more than 20 minutes out of every hour and required an hourlong break after 40 minutes of work, so the cleanup proceeded at a very slow pace.

The short answer is that every agency — each with its own particular bureaucratic agenda — was able to veto each aspect of any plan to fight the spill, with the unintended consequence that nothing stopped the oil from destroying hundreds of miles of wetlands, habitats, beaches, fisheries and recreational facilities.

Where was the president? Why did he not intervene in these and countless other bureaucratic controversies to force a focus on the oil, not on the turtles and other incidental concerns?

According to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, the administration’s “lack of ability has become transparent” in its handling of the oil spill. He notes that one stellar exception has been Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, without whom, he says, nothing whatever would have gotten done.

Eventually, the state stopped listening to federal agencies and just has gone ahead and given funds directly to the local folks fighting the spill rather than paying attention to the directives of the Unified Command. Apparently, there is a world of difference between the competence of the Coast Guard and the superb and efficient regular Navy and military.

Now the greatest crisis of all looms on the horizon as hurricanes sweep into the Gulf. Should one hit offshore, it will destroy all the booms that have been placed to stop the oil from reaching shore. And there are no more booms anywhere in the world, according to Alabama disaster relief officials. “There is no more inventory of booms anywhere on earth,” one told me in despair.

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The political impact of this incompetence has only just begun to be felt. While administration operatives are flying high after a week in which the president’s ratings rebounded to 49 percent, per Rasmussen, after his firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the oil is still gushing and the situation is about to worsen.

The obvious fact is that Obama has no executive experience, nor do any of his top advisers. Without a clear mandate from the top, needed efforts to salvage the situation are repeatedly stymied by well-meaning bureaucrats strictly following the letter of their agency policy and federal law. The result, ironically, of their determined efforts to protect the environment has been the greatest environmental disaster in history. But some turtles are OK!

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Bill Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced and Catastrophe. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan, go to dickmorris.com. In August, Morris became a strategist for the League of American Voters, which is running ads opposing the president’s healthcare reforms.

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