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  • From Disaster to a Catastrophe In the Gulf - What's Obama's Endgame?

    To many along the Gulf Coast, the oil spill response is Katrina… with a difference.

    With Katrina, says Mark Riley, an official in Louisiana’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Department, the problem was that the federal government showed up with its “hurricane bag” and found a disaster.

    This time, they showed up with “oil spill bag and found a catastrophe.”

    And after a week surveying the federal response to this latest disaster, one certainly gets the impression that the feds, though anxious to help, have brought a knife to this shootout.

    By law, the Coast Guard is responsible for coordinating Washington’s response to spills of national significance—SONS. And many Louisianans have a soft spot for the agency.

    After Katrina, the blue-clad men and women of the Coast Guard were the first—and by all accounts, most effective—federal responders on the scene. They rescued 33,000 people.

    Just as Katrina was no ordinary hurricane, so Deepwater Horizon is no ordinary oil spill.

    And the Coast Guard has never had to coordinate anything this big. The state was ready to go on day one. The Coast Guard was not.

    Before the well exploded, the entire service had only about 150 oil spill experts. It takes nearly that many people to make coffee at the BP facility in Houma, La., that now serves as central command for recovery operations.

    Seriously, the place is teeming with about 1,000 people. Before the explosion, the Coast Guard seldom thought about handling anything bigger than the next Exxon Valdez.

    The entire Coast Guard only has about 50,000 active and reserves, and it seems most of them are on the Gulf. Still they are too few—and under-powered to deal with the BP mega corporation on one hand and the alphabet soup of federal agencies on the other.

    As for the states… they’re caught in the middle.

    Compounding the problem: The Coast Guard is principally a sea service. Yet much of the disaster requires coordinating land operations—like moving, tracking and distributing five-million feet of boom to block, channel, or soak up spilled oil.

    The Coast Guard is skilled at operating jointly with other military services and coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security.

    But a lot of the essential partners in this operation—from private contractors based in Alaska to auditors from BP corporate—are people the Guard knows only by name badge or business card.

    At Houma, the players wear different colored vests—green for finance, another color for operations, planning, safety and so on—to indicate what they do.

    Houma looks like a combination of angry blue-ant hill (the Coast Guard contingent) and a beehive of colored vests scurrying in every direction—posting and pondering how to tackle every spill sighting.

    Despite the buzz of activity, progress often seems glacial.

    When a Louisiana Parish wants to do something, it must get permission by typing its request on an Internet site called the Web EOC. The request gets routed to the State Emergency Operations Center, but all Mark Riley can do is forward it to Houma.

    There the Star Chamber of the Coast Guard and BP decide what is worth doing.

    If a permit is required, the request gets handed to the Corps of Engineers, which proceeds to herd up all the federal cats needed to get sign-off.

    If the request goes to the state National Guard, it gets routed to the state Joint Operations Center and from there to the unit.

    To the state’s credit they have pressed BP and the Coast Guard to decentralize some of the response. Forward Operating Branches have now been established in the parishes for quick assessments and response, but it took weeks to get the Coast Guard to buy off on the idea.

    In some cases, it seems, neither the state nor the Coast Guard can expedite the federal permitting process.

    Louisiana pressed vigorously for permission to build rock dams at Grand Isle to block oil from drifting ashore. It took about a month to get an answer: No.

    The locals were astonished. It was as though Eisenhower had asked to launch D-Day and on July 6, 1944, FDR called to say no.

    There’s great wisdom in the water-cooler advice: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.” So far, Washington hasn’t decided which course of action it will pick.

    If the administration wants to lead, it should back the Coast Guard by sending in a senior political official commissioned to get all the federal agencies on war footing.

    Unless it shifts gears and goes proactive—fast—the administration risks turning a disaster into a full-blown catastrophe.

    James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.

    Cross-posted from FoxNews.com.

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to From Disaster to a Catastrophe In the Gulf - What's Obama's Endgame?

    1. Pingback: From Disaster to a Catastrophe In the Gulf – What’s Obama’s Endgame? | Plug The Bleeping Hole

    2. George Colgrove says:

      I think asking for a federal lead on this at this point is only asking for more problems. It is not in the feds interest to solve this quickly. At the very least declare someone like Jindal the head and let him lead the effort without federal presence. I think the feds have disqualified themselves of this matter. If the locals were ready on day one, we need them to get to work today. We do not have time to set up a commission to determine who the federal lead will be. Federal agencies are too tied up in red tape. If they could jump on a problem and solve it quickly, they will prove that their current complicated processes are worthless.

      A quick acting fed could justify a massive reduction of otherwise useless federal employees. It is in the feds interest to make this problem seem as complicated as it can to justify their growing presence on this country. Over 3 million feds count on this failure for their livelihood. If Jindal lead the local effort by simple declaration – dare I say a declaration of a state of emergency, then it will be up to the feds to act in consort or simply back off and be as irrelevant as they appear. When the oil hits the shore, it is no longer a federal duty. It is the state of Louisiana's problem and they should be able to get this under control on their own efforts and timetable. Louisiana does have their own environmental permitting agencies. The federal government is only a redundant layer on top of that. It should be Louisiana citizens directing the cleanup at their shores not the District of Columbia.

    3. Karen Miller , Marti says:

      While I agree with your article, I wish you did not have to use profane language.

    4. Drew Page, IL says:

      Are you kidding? The end game is to not let the crisis go to waste. The crisis presents the perfect opportunity for Mr. O to push his Cap & Trade plans, increases taxes and energy costs, put the government in control of yet another area of the economy and, oh yes, blame George Bush and the Republicans.

    5. Jeanne Stotler, Wood says:

      This was the most mishandled disaster in history. Anyone with a ounce of common sense would have sent all help available and started to contain the spill ASAP then worried about the commisions to do studies. I agree BHO is looking at this as a excuse to push his CAP & TRADE and furthur control this country contrary to the Constitution.

    6. Billie says:

      there should be investigation on the government evaluators of oil rigs. BP passing all evaluations at a standard to receive an award is spooky…

      seemingly a set-up with more to come under government.

    7. BK, US says:

      Let's not forget that he ordered all agencies which have anything to do with the coasts and lakes of our nation to regulate using the Land of the Sea treaty. While its all in place, it hasn't been implemented yet. This crisis may give them reason to begin regulating to these means.

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