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.”
(The Obama administration has belatedly accepted some foreign equipment for use in fighting the spill, although it still blocks ships with foreign crews. As Voice of America notes, although “the Netherlands offered help in April,” such as providing “sophisticated” oil “skimmers and dredging devices,” the Obama administration blocked their crews from working in U.S. waters, and as a result, this crucial “operation was delayed until U.S. crews could be trained” in June. “The Dutch also offered assistance with building sand berms (barriers) along the coast of Louisiana to protect sensitive marshlands, but that offer was also rejected, even though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had been requesting such protective barriers.”)
In April 2009, the Obama administration granted BP, a big supporter of Obama, a waiver of environmental regulations. But after the oil spill, it blocked Louisiana from protecting its coastline against the oil spill by delaying rather than expediting regulatory approval of essential protective measures. It has also chosen not to use what has been described as “the most effective method” of fighting the spill, a method successfully used in other oil spills. Democratic strategist James Carville called Obama’s handling of the oil spill “lackadaisical” and “unbelievable” in its “stupidity.”
Obama is now using BP’s oil spill to push the global-warming legislation that BP had lobbied for. Obama’s global warming legislation expands ethanol subsidies, which cause famine, starvation, and food riots in poor countries by shrinking the food supply. Ethanol makes gasoline costlier and dirtier, increases ozone pollution, and increases the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol production also results in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution. Subsidies for biofuels like ethanol are a big source of corporate welfare: “BP has lobbied for and profited from subsidies for biofuels … that cannot break even without government support.”
Hans Bader is Counsel for Special Projects at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Coming to CEI in 2003, Hans’s prior casework has included suits involving the First Amendment, federalism, and civil rights issues.