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Friday, June 18, 2010
Still Too Little, Much Too Late

After nearly two months, the Obama administration is finally beginning to act as if it wants to solve the oil spill problem, not just exploit it. Three possible reasons for the delay. A short list of interesting things to read.

It was very nearly two months ago that the British Petroleum oil spill began. Let's set aside for the moment arguments over whether foolish bans on land and shallow water drilling contributed to the debacle, and whether regulatory agencies involved were ineffective or even corrupt, and which administration is to blame for that. Let's focus on what happened once the spill was an accomplished fact.

Three days into the spill, the government of the Netherlands offered some serious help, which would have taken the form of some ships which can skim an amazing amount of oil from an equally amazing quantity of water. The administration refused. Before long, a dozen other countries had offered assistance and had been rebuffed or ignored. Meanwhile, existing plans to burn off the oil were not implemented. State, county, and private efforts to prevent coastal damage were either prohibited or hopelessly mired in bureaucratic indecision. It's as if the administration was absolutely confident that talking tough and pointing fingers constituted a perfectly adequate solution to the problem.

Just today, said multiple news reports, the Obama administration has begun to allow some local and state government activities to mitigate the effects of the spill -- after nearly two months!

In the black, oily wake of the past eight weeks, three causes or contributing factors bubble to the surface.

An unfortunate mix of bureaucratic dithering and a conspicuous lack of leadership at the top. In truth we (collectively) asked for the former by ceding too much power to the federal government. We begged for the latter by electing a community organizer and first-term US Senator to the White House, despite the fact that his biography included nothing that remotely resembled executive experience. I freely admit that we expect too much of the federal government and particularly the president -- now as in the days after Katrina. But did we really have to shoot ourselves in both feet at the same time?

An unhealthy presidential allegiance to organized labor. Because of a foolish piece of protectionism called the Jones Act, in order to accept foreign assistance in such matters, it is apparently necessary for the administration to suspend the Jones Act temporarily. This has been done without delay during past disasters, but this administration refuses to do it. The labor lobby lives a lot closer to the White House than the "little people" on the Gulf of Mexico do, after all; regrettably, proximity and allegiance seem to go together here.

A thinly-veiled sense that the worse this disaster is for the Gulf and for the economy, the better it is for President Obama's agenda, especially where energy policy and cap-and-trade are concerned. I have long suspected this -- well, only for about two months -- but I might not have mentioned it, had I not read the President's Oval Office speech this week, where he uses the disaster to justify his agenda. It is as if the White House's primary concern is to survive this politically -- because it's otherwise a welcome thing -- not to solve the environmental problem.

Here are a few of the things I've been reading on the subject:

I also reread a superb speech, which I posted here at LocalCommentary.com two years ago, with permission from Imprimis. It is William Tucker's "The Case for Terrestrial (a.k.a. Nuclear) Energy" -- an excellent and clear survey of current and potential energy sources. I highly recommend it -- not least for people in Utah who are concerned about nuclear waste.

For the sake of the people on it and the Gulf of Mexico itself, I hope for a swift and effective resolution of the oil problem. For the sake of our politics, I hope Americans do not soon lose sight of organized labor's harmful influence in this scenario, or of the consequences of electing people to lead us who are not leaders . . . or, for that matter, of expecting the federal government to take care of us.

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