Judge Blocks Gulf Drilling Ban, Citing Deception by Obama Administration; Obama Continues to Delay Gulf Clean-Up

by Hans Bader on June 22, 2010

in Agriculture, Energy, Environment, Ethanol, Global Warming, International, Legal, Natural Resources, Politics as Usual, Precaution & Risk, Regulation, Sanctimony

A federal judge has just blocked the Obama administration from imposing a blanket ban on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  Judge Martin Feldman cited blatantly false claims by the Obama administration in its report imposing the ban, and violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, which protects against arbitrary government actions.  Earlier, Obama had delayed a clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico by Louisiana and foreign countries, by imposing unnecessary red tape.

“Judge Feldman hones in on blatant lies incorporated into the Deepwater report by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. His head should roll:

In the Executive Summary to the Report, the Secretary [Salazar] recommends “a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled . . .” Much to the government’s discomfort and this Court’s uneasiness, the Summary also states that “the recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts”. . .the experts themselves, pointedly observe, this statement was misleading. The experts charge it was a “misrepresentation.” It was factually incorrect.  . . five of the National Academy experts and three of the other experts have publicly stated that they “do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium” on floating drilling.”

The government recently used red tape to force Louisiana to stop using 16 barges that were cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico by sucking thousands of gallons of oil out of Louisiana’s oil-soaked waters.  Earlier, four oil skimmers needed to clean the Gulf were blocked by EPA officials.

Obama also delayed the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico by blocking foreign crews from operating sophisticated clean-up vessels.  The Jones Act bans foreign vessels and crews from working in U.S. waters, but it gives the President the authority to completely waive that ban if he wishes.  Obama refused to lift the ban, even though American shippers who generally support the ban said they wouldn’t object to lifting it to fight the spill.  As a result of the ban, the U.S. has rejected a lot of foreign aid from counties with expertise in fighting oil spills, and accepted only a small amount of foreign equipment to fight the spill.

Even Democrats are now criticizing the Obama administration for refusing to waive the ban to allow America’s allies to clean up the oil spill:

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) said it was unacceptable that her state couldn’t utilize foreign vessels for skimming. She held up pictures of skimmers available in Mexico and Norway that could help.  ‘We are in emergency mode and we need skimmers,’ Brown said. “We need the big ones. I understand they’re available in other countries, including Mexico and Norway. What is the process for the state to utilize these vessels from other countries? … We’re talking about protecting Florida’s coast.’ . . .Deputy Maritime Administrator David Matsuda confirmed there has been one Jones Act waiver request for a foreign deck barge to operate within three miles of the U.S. coast. That request was denied . . . .Of course, the Obama administration could eliminate the bureaucratic delay entirely by simply following the precedent set by the Bush administration, which waived the Jones Act in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 to transport oil and gasoline throughout the Gulf region. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has the legal authority to suspend the law.

“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.”

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 refused to do so after the spill, notes David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen.  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.’”

(The Obama administration belatedly accepted some foreign equipment for use in fighting the spill, although it still blocked ships with foreign crews from working in U.S. waters.  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.”

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