President Obama and the Jones Act
By Roland de Beque • Monday June 14, 2010 3:38 PM PDT • 7 Comments
Any vestiges of goodwill and support for President Obama that I hold are vanishing faster than the Gulf Coast wetlands. Our “green” president is directly responsible for the escalation of the worst man-made environmental disaster in American history.
The catastrophic explosion of Deepwater Horizon on April 20 was not directly caused by Obama, obviously. Does any rational person believe that Obama stands to gain by the situation in the gulf, either by causing it or by standing idly on the sidelines while oil continues to pour into the gulf? But standing idly by is precisely what this administration has done, when getting out of the way is what it needed to do.
According to ForeignPolicy.com, within two weeks of the rig explosion the governments of Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and even the United Nations offered assistance. The response of the Obama State Department:
“While there is no need right now that the U.S. cannot meet, the U.S. Coast Guard is assessing these offers of assistance to see if there will be something which we will need in the near future.”
Similarly, De Standaard, a Dutch news site, reports that Belgian and Dutch dredgers possess technology to combat the gigantic spill in the Gulf. Two Belgian companies, DEME and De Nul, and their Dutch competitors are set up to handle the task in part because construction of ships required to undertake a large-scale cleanup would cost twice as much to build in the U.S.
Why would the Obama administration refuse the help of foreign entities? Because of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Also known as the Jones Act, the federal legislation is a protectionist measure designed to support the U.S. merchant marine industry. It requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried by ships flying the U.S. flag, constructed in the United States, and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Written into the Jones Act are provisions that allow for waivers in cases of national emergency or strategic interest. Even President Bush, in his less-than-stellar response to Hurricane Katrina, did not hesitate to waive the Jones Act in order speed up the distribution of oil and gasoline to areas where pipeline transmission systems were damaged or destroyed.
Although I expect President Obama to waive the Jones Act eventually, why did he not act to do so when offers of assistance started coming in? Some have suggested it was a sense of pride, but I believe it stems from Obama’s belief that his administration—the federal government—is and should be the solver of all problems.
There will no doubt be plenty of blame for this catastrophe, but if there is anything that Obama could have done to forestall or lessen the amount of damage to the Gulf Coast he should have done it. His continuing failure to do so is contributing to an environmental nightmare beyond belief. This is an epic failure by the Obama Administration.
This is the time to waive the Jones Act. This is the time to issue a plea to anyone in private industry—foreign or domestic—who has a potential, even unproven, method to clean up afflicted coastline or to protect threatened areas to get to the Gulf as soon as possible and put it to work in a coordinated effort. This is the time to throw out the rulebook. This is the time for Obama to remove the roadblocks that keep Gulf Coast localities from receiving the supplies they have requested. This is the time to let local and state governments to do whatever they need to do and to do it right now.
The ecosystem of the Gulf Coast is going to be altered. Wetlands will disappear, likely to be replaced with open water. Life up and down the food chain will suffer and die. In some instances whole species face the possibility of extinction. How we respond will define us as a nation and, ultimately as a species.