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Tragedy and Politics

Instapundit links to a story detailing how regularory excess, among other things, has slowed U.S. reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf.

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

To protect against the possibility that its equipment wouldn't capture all the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana's marshlands with sand barriers. One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks. . . .

The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

This is not a new problem:

When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, a Dutch team with clean-up equipment flew in to Anchorage airport to offer their help. To their amazement, they were rebuffed and told to go home with their equipment.

The U.S. government seems to be trying to follow a few imperatives at once: take care of the spill, and maintain enviornmental and worker regulations.  The result has been unfortunate, but not surprising.  The quest for a policy with no down-side, like the desire to create a world where there is no need for prerogative power in the executive, however much to be wished for, is, in fact, a sign of extremism.  The world ain't like that.  There will always be competing goods, and there will always be times when action beyond the letter of the law is necessary.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 5 Comments

This is just another example of what I call the "Liberal Perfection Syndrome." In short, no solutions to technical-environmental problems are acceptable unless they are perfect. If the solution isn't perfect, it won't be used even if it is orders of magnitude better than anything currently in place.

Another example of this is nuclear power. Until we can come up with a system that can absolutely guarantee against even tiny accidents, it can't be allowed. And even if you can fix the production end, there is still disposal of waste material... no matter if you can come up with a disposal or long-term storage system better than currently used, it won't be implemented if the risk of a release does not approach zero to many decimal places.

Reducing risk to zero is an impossible liberal demand, but they won't accept a rational approach to risk management that weighs costs and benefits, and is capable of accepting risks to make genuine progress.

FactCheck has debunked a sizeable portion of the claims that the FinancialPost is forwarding there:

Also, just as a note to DaveK - whatever credibility the writer of this FinancialPost article might have to you, he has also been on the record as opposed to expansion of nuclear power for... economic reasons. Which is the interesting aspect that conservatives should pay attention to. I'm opposed to it for the enviro reasons, as well (which you very seriously underplay), but the free-market arguments against nuclear are also worth considering. One need only start with the massive government subsidy called Price-Anderson to begin to get some idea of nuclear's lack of economic sense.

Fact Check claiming more than the data merit. Look at the number of things "under consideration."

It might be that the Jones act comes into play in these cases.

In general, the "fact check," and the data behind it, shows that the response seems more concerned with following SOP than with tackling the spill. Part of crisis management is knowing when, were, and how to bend or ignore rules that are designed for normal circumstances.

Interesting list - notice how all of those offers are marked "Yes" under "Reimbursement required?"

Hey, let me help! Just $10!

And I can hear the Palindrones hollering now for giving American jobs to foreigners or putting us in debt to other nations, etc, etc., etc. After all, as Sarah has instructed, what we really need to do is pray!

What' most interesting to see now is how the right actually wants and even expects the government to get things done. It's a dizzying turn-around.

You're assuming cost is a reason, and not an excuse. I'm not so sure. It might be that the cost is not high, but that it would require the U.S. to be paying foreign workers, in violation of the Jones act.

What's the turn-around? Conservatives and liberals differ on what the job of government is, not whether there ought to be a government.

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