Crucial offers to help clean up BP’s oil spill “have come from Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian firms that … possess some of the world’s most advanced oil skimming ships.” But the Obama administration wouldn’t accept the help, because doing so would require it to do something past presidents have routinely done: waive rules imposed by the Jones Act, a law backed by unions.
The law itself permits the president to waive these requirements, and such waivers were “granted, promptly, by the Bush administration,” in the aftermath of hurricanes and other emergencies. But Obama has refused to do so, notes David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen:
—“The BP clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico is hampered by the Jones Act. This is a piece of 1920s protectionist legislation, that requires all vessels working in U.S. waters to be American-built, and American-crewed. So … the U.S. Coast Guard … can’t accept, and therefore don’t ask for, the assistance of high-tech European vessels specifically designed for the task in hand.”
Instead, Obama rejected a Dutch offer to help clean up the spill, noted Voice of America News:
—“The Obama administration declined the Dutch offer partly because of the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from certain activities in U.S. waters. During the Hurricane Katrina crisis five years ago, the Bush administration waived the Jones Act in order to facilitate some foreign assistance, but such a waiver was not given in this case.
“After the Obama administration refused help from the Netherlands, Geert Visser, the consul general for the Netherlands in Houston, told Loren Steffy: ‘Let’s forget about politics; let’s get it done.’” But for Obama, politics always comes first: “The explanation of Obama’s reluctance to seek this remedy is his cozy relationship with labor unions … ‘The unions see it [not waiving the act] as … protecting jobs. They hate when the Jones Act gets waived.’”
Ironically, even the staunchest supporters of the Jones Act are now distancing themselves from refusals to accept foreign help, saying they have “not and will not stand in the way of the use of these well-established waiver procedures to address this crisis.” Obama is being more intransigently pro-union than the unions themselves.
One can only hope Obama will change his mind now, given that “each day our European allies are prevented from helping us speed up the clean up is another day that Gulf fishing and tourism jobs die.”