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Never Too Late…

19 Jun

Glad to see it only took 57 days for the Minerals Management Service to advertise this very attractive position as the newest scapegoat Emergency Oil Spill Response Coordinator.  My favorite part:

This position is being advertised concurrently with (MMS-ZG-10-MM354353), using Merit Promotion procedures.

Pretty sure we don’t need to worry about a merit promotion…

AP: CONSERVATIVES SHOCKINGLY ASK FOR FEDERAL ASSISTANCE IN CLEANING UP FEDERAL WATERS FOLLOWING OIL SPILL FROM FEDERALLY-LEASED WELL

3 Jun

The AP implies some sort of ideological impurity in conservatives/tea party activists* asking for federal assistance in dealing with the Gulf oil spill.  I know this sort of copy-and-paste journalism is easier than actually trying to understand either conservative political philsophy (as opposed to, say, anarchy) or thinking about the vapidity of the academics you are quoting, but come on.  Sigh:

Take Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican elected in 2007 when Democrat Kathleen Blanco opted not to seek re-election after she was widely panned for a bumbling response to Hurricane Katrina two years earlier.

Since April 20, when a gulf rig exploded and blew out an underwater oil well about 50 miles south of Louisiana, Jindal has been a ubiquitous presence in the fishing communities and barrier islands along his state’s fragile coastline. He’s been out on boats and up in Blackhawk helicopters, doors open, to survey the spreading, rust-colored swath of crude.

Jindal, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, has demanded a stronger response from the Obama administration, accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of dragging its feet in approving Louisiana’s plans for protective berms — a plan that took three weeks to approve.

“This oil threatens not only our coast and our wetlands, this oil fundamentally threatens our way of life in southeastern Louisiana,” Jindal said last week.

Jindal is a fiscal conservative who made headlines last year by rejecting some federal stimulus money, then distributing other stimulus funds by handing out oversized cardboard checks to local officials.

Louisiana State University political science professor Kirby Goidel said Jindal’s call for larger federal involvement in the oil spill management contradicts the governor’s usual persona.

“He’s governor largely because of Katrina,” Goidel said. “He knows that it’s important to get out on top of it and be clear if the federal government is not doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s important for people to know that.”

Goidel said he’s not surprised small-government conservatives would seek help from Washington in a disaster that threatens the Gulf’s water quality and everything that depends on it, from the shrimping industry to tourism.

“I think it’s a pretty predictable response: ‘We’ve got a problem that’s beyond our control. Get the federal government in here to take control,'” Goidel said.

Oi.  I’m not going to post a play-by-play of the federal failures that precipitated (caused?) the spill, as the facts on MMS mismanagement are not totally in and others have already done a better job than I am capable.  However, I will point out three things that bug the hell out of me about this piece:

1. You can’t seriously think that asking for federal assistance in cleaning up the spill violates some conservative ethic, can you?  Over the years, Republicans have talked about abolishing a number of federal programs, but I am almost certain that federal emergency assistance in response to crises emanating from federal lands wasn’t a high-priority target.  Add to this the fact that the number one complaint from Jindal was foot-dragging by the federal government to approve his coastal protection proposal for several weeks, and this theme seems even sillier.
2. In spite of his well-documented lack of State of the Union-responding abilities, I am a big fan of Governor Jindal.  He is not, though, a fire-breathing conservative nor a libertarian.  He is a pragmatic problem-solver with excellent managerial skills and mediocre public relations abilities.  The claim that “[h]e’s governor largely because of Katrina” is highly misleading.  His primary campaign was so convincing that he did not even need the nearly-automatic Louisiana runoff election, despite following a natural disaster of an emergency response that was, in large part, blamed on the incumbent Republican President (Did I mention that this was in 2007, in between national drubbings of by-the-book Republicans in ’06 and ’08?).
3. I understand the “gotcha” appeals of these “conservatives violate their small government principles!” stories every time a Republican Governor accepts federal money or a limited government conservative requests an earmark, but they are really uncompelling.  Any person, regardless of how ideologically committed, must make certain compromises and sacrifices in order to work within the system that exists at the time.  This conundrum is even more marked in the context of public officials that, in spite of their campaign themes, represent diverse constituencies.  I am no more troubled by Ron Paul’s earmarks or Governor Schwarzenegger accepting stimulus money than I am about Al Gore’s greenhouse gas emissions.
*Can we just call you all conservatives or libertarians yet?  I understand the desire to not be pinned down by partisan affiliation, but it would really reduce unnecessary verbiage, painful cable news specials by Chris Matthews on the “Rise of the New Right,” and confusing endorsements by random institutions claiming to speak for the movement. 

Babies & Oily Bathwater

1 Jun

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, the BP oil spill is obviously a game-changing event for both the 2010 elections and near-term energy policy.  In spite of that, my thinking thus far has been that in the longer-term, the Macondo spill would probably not have a significant effect on our energy mix for a couple of reasons.  First, given the absence of widespread electrification or competitive transportation alternatives, the only alternatives to offshore domestic oil exploration are importing additional oil (with subsequent tanker spill concerns that have been mentioned on every cable TV news show) or expanding exploration of unconventional oil sources on the continent.  Second, considering the widespread and irrational support for ‘energy independence’ (which always seems to coincidentially reach a fever pitch in November of every even-numbered year….), I figured the domestic leasing process would return to business-as-usual in a few months.  In other words, I thought the Administration’s actions to postpone leases would provide short-term political cover until a clearly identifiable culprit could be blamed (most likely a specific technological issue with the blowout preventer or a specific bureacratic failure of a recently-departed MMS employee). 

I am now, though, seriously rethinking my nonchalance about the Administration’s short-term decisions in light of this excellent explanation at ENERGY OUTLOOK:

[T]he President’s decision will compound the economic damage to a Gulf Coast already reeling from the impact of the spill.

We should take some consolation that the President didn’t shut down the 591 deepwater wells that are already producing oil and gas in the Gulf. The mere fact that this was reported suggests it had probably been under serious consideration. As I’ve noted on numerous occasions in the last several weeks, the oil and gas we produce from the Outer Continental Shelf is a crucial source of domestic energy and vital to our energy security. However, that importance also extends to our offshore drilling capacity, which was put at risk by this decision.

After an event like this spill, no one should expect things to continue exactly as they were. However, the New York Times is right to call the President’s response “partly a political exercise aimed at showing that his administration is on top of the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.” Instead of singling out the companies that were directly involved in the Deepwater Horizon accident for this time-out to prevent further spills, he has chosen to punish the entire industry and all its stakeholders in the region, including the most safety-conscious and diligent operators with unblemished records. Halting all of BP’s projects, or even all projects involving Transocean, could have been defended as a sensible precaution. Freezing everything looks like the act of an administration that is so out of its depth in this situation that its fundamental instinct is to eliminate any possibility of another problem from this source on its watch. Unfortunately, American energy consumers will be paying for years for this extreme level of risk aversion.