WSJ Lays Out The Differences Between Katrina And BP Responses

Paul H. Rubin, professor of economics at Emory University, does a great job in comparing and contrasting the federal responses to the two disasters as they relate to two presidents, though, I do think he forgot one point, which I’ll get to. First, some background

In many respects, the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Katrina are mirror images of each other. The harm from Katrina was on state land–mainly Louisiana, but also Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. As a result, President George W. Bush and the federal government were limited in what they could do. For example, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wanted to take command of disaster relief on the day before landfall, but Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco refused. Federal response was hindered because the law gave first authority to state and local authorities.

State and local efforts–particularly in New Orleans, and Louisiana more broadly–interfered with what actions the federal government could actually take. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was late in ordering an evacuation and did not allow the use of school buses for evacuation, which could have saved hundreds of lives. President Bush had no power to change that decision.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is on federal offshore territory. The federal government has primary responsibility for handling the situation, while state and local governments remain limited in what they can do. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly changed its mind regarding the chemical dispersants that Louisiana is allowed to use. In the Florida Panhandle, Okaloosa County officials voted to disregard any restrictions from higher branches of government and allow its own emergency management team to do what it views as best, such as creating an underwater “air curtain” of bubbles to push oil to the surface, and using barges to block the oil once it rises. They believe that the federal government is undermining their efforts.

As opposed to Katrina, state and local attempts to address the oil spill have been hindered by an ineffectual and chaotic federal response.

Paul then gets into the differences in the responses by the Coast Guard, the way that Bush almost immediately suspended the Jones Act while Obama has yet to do so, and how the media attacked Bush beyond belief, yet are, for the most part, gently chiding Obama for his handling of this.

Mr. Bush was a Republican, and elected Democrats controlled Louisiana and New Orleans, the main victims of Katrina. Many claimed Mr. Bush neglected New Orleans for this reason. Mr. Obama is a Democrat, and the states affected by Deepwater Horizon–Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida–all have Republican governors. I have not seen anyone, even on the right, claim that the ineffectual response of the Obama administration is due to partisan politics.

I should hope no one will claim the Obama response is due to partisan politics. There are two reasons the response has been “ineffectual.” First, I think we can guess that Obama wants the spill to be worse, and continue on till he can get cap and tax passed. Second, let’s face it, Obama is incompetent, and he has surrounded himself with mostly people who have no idea what to do and/or are incompetent. Let me ask, when is the last time you heard Janet Napolitano, the Director of Homeland Security, discuss the BP Spill? The Washington Post is asking, too, as well as wondering where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is.

In the two days right after Katrina landfall, President Bush spent only a little time discussing it. He was focused on Medicare and the Iraqi Constitution. We obviously cannot read his mind, but, after eight years of watching the man, I would suspect that he expected the same type of competence happening on Alabama and Mississippi to happen in lower Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans. He probably hadn’t expect Mayor Nagin to order a late evacuation, fail to use the school bus plan, and blow off the use of Amtrak trains. I bet he didn’t expect Louisiana officials to deny the Red Cross access, as well. Nor the unbelievable looting and violence. This is not to say the response by the Federal government was great, but, at least by day three they were trying. They were engaged. They couldn’t exactly pre-position the number of people and aid needed when 1. there was a monster hurricane coming, and even 48 hours out there was some doubt where it would hit, plus, hurricanes are BIG, and 2. they did not know what the exact damage would be.

As for Obama, really, they have been barely engaged, other than in a pissing match over who is in charge, who’s “ass to kick,” and who can appear better in the press.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach

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