The Oil Spill and Katrina

President Obama has called the oil spill off the coasts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, “An Unprecedented Environmental disaster.” Even though we don’t know the cause of the explosion that resulted in the oil spill, we have all seen the pictures of the oil slick. The first day I heard they were going to burn off the oil. It sounded like a great idea. But then, it didn’t happen. I wondered what was going on. What happened was we were not prepared.

From the Mobile, Alabama Press-Register:

If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.
The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.

The “In-Situ Burn” plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.

But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.

When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.

At federal officials’ behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.

What Pres. Obama is learning, is that no matter how well intentioned, we can never be prepared for the unexpected. According to oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet, the burning could have captured 95% of the oil as it spilled from the well.

via Powerline

Which brings me to my ongoing series on Karl Rove’s book, “Courage and Consequences.” Today I tackle Katrina. I think it’s a good time to review, since this latest disaster also shows how slow the federal government can be in response to a disaster. Bush was torn to shreds by the left and the media over Katrina. And even though we know the whole story now, the false narrative remains. I’m all about destroying the false narrative. Although Pres. Bush’s response was not perfect by far, he was no more responsible for the slow reaction than Pres. Obama is for this slow response to this “unprecedented environmental disaster.”

Let’s start at the beginning. the National Hurricane Center director urged New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin to issue a mandatory evacuation the Saturday before Katrina (August 27th) and wondered why one hadn’t been enacted already. Neither Gov. Blanco or Mayor Nagin did that until Sunday morning. That Sunday morning Pres. Bush called Gov. Blanco to encourage her and Mayor Nagin to carry out the evacuation plan (I bet you didn’t know that, did you?). If Nagin had issued that order on Friday, most of the estimated 70 thousand people stranded in New Orleans would have been out of harms way. The school buses we all saw underwater, could have been used, as well as the Amtrak train that left the city Sunday night virtually empty. The state director and staff of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and Gov. Blanco assured the President on Sunday that they were “way ahead of the game here.” They were asked if they had any unmet needs, and they replied, “No.”

On Monday, August 29th, Katrina came ashore. Early reports said that the storm damage was contained and the levees were holding. By 2pm that was no longer the case. The communication between state officials and the Secretary of Homeland Security was inept and inaccurate. On Tuesday morning before dawn, Bush was informed that the 17th street levee had been overwhelmed. On his way back to Washington D.C. Air Force One was diverted to fly low over New Orleans so Bush could see the coast for himself. By this time thousands upon thousands of people had taken shelter in the Convention Center. This was unplanned, so state officials had no food or water for them. At that time, Homeland Security Chief, Chertoff was told by state officials that only a total of 1,500 people were at the convention center. Fortunately, Chertoff didn’t take their word for that and discovered the truth, and immediately dispatched food and water to them. It didn’t come quickly enough, and the red cross was not allowed in by state officials for reasons that still aren’t clear. Safety was an issue I suppose. It was clear that Nagin and Blanco were overwhelmed by the circumstances. But, in their defense, no state officials have ever had to deal with this large of a disaster. Gov. Blanco was not able to tell the President what she needed. She basically wanted the U.S. military to restore order, but that was illegal. The military cannot be used for law enforcement, and state officials can’t command the U.S. military. What was needed and requested was for the federal government to take over command of the disaster. The Governor MUST request this though OR the President can declare a region in a “state of insurrection.” Those are the only two ways a President can take over. Blanco was asked to request this on Tuesday, the very next day after Katrina hit, but she refused. That single decision, in my opinion, could have saved thousands and thousands of people from suffering as long as they did. The President had to decide whether to strip a sitting Governor of her authority, an act unprecedented. Imagine what the media would have done with that! By Friday just about everyone in the country was frustrated, as well as the President. It wasn’t until that Friday that Gov. Blanco dispatch 6,500 National Guard troops to restore order.

In a complete opposite response, Mississippi and Alabama had a well organized state emergency effort. Louisiana’s was clearly dysfunctional. Four days into the crisis it became clear that the Governor and the Mayor were not communicating with each other at all. Each was saying that the other was responsible for the public safety in New Orleans. Bush then offered Blanco a shared command structure, if Blanco would request federalization. She said she would think about for 24 hours. The President, more than frustrated with what was happening on the ground, went ahead and authorized the dispatch of 7,200 active duty U.S. military to the area. Then an additional 10,000 National Guard troops to the coast. The military could not perform law enforcement duties, but the National Guard could. Bush felt that the military could relieve law enforcement officials, who could then resume policing duties. We all saw the heroic rescue efforts, which would never have been needed if the evacuation plan had been adhered to, but it came late. And is that any surprise to anyone who knows how incompetent Blanco and Nagin were? The Bush administration didn’t do enough quickly enough either, but clearly a large part of the blame lays on Blanco and Nagin’s shoulders. I just wish that the false narrative of this being all of Bush’s fault had been diffused when we finally knew all the facts, but it wasn’t.

Just as in this oil spill, we can’t expect the President to act completely correct at any given moment or disaster. There are circumstances he can’t foresee. Like the fact that we didn’t have a fire boom on hand, as is federally called for. Pres. Obama will receive little criticism of this, because that is the double standard we conservatives are always forced to live with. But in truth, neither Bush nor Obama could have anticipated these disasters. I just wish the media would have given the slack to Bush that they are clearly giving to Obama.

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