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After 100 Days, How Is the Gulf Faring?

Over the last four weeks, The Heritage Foundation sent multiple teams of respected energy, environment, homeland security and response experts to the Gulf to study the federal response to the oil spill. These three delegations, with more to come, have traversed the areas hit hardest by the crisis, talking to response workers, affected oil crews, fishermen, elected leaders and BP representatives. What we found is simple: President Obama’s administration has turned a crisis into a disaster, and someone needs to be held accountable.

Accountability is in short supply in Washington these days. Fingers are pointed in every direction for our nations economic woes. President Obama’s favorite target of choice is the past administration for nearly every problem he faces. Yet, the oil spill has only two central characters: BP and the Obama administration. BP is (very) slowly taking accountability for its creation of this crisis. Tony Hayward was finally dismissed as CEO, and they have promised full financial restitution for direct and indirect victims. On Day 100 of the spill, its time the Obama administration followed suit.

And what exactly does the administration have to be held accountable for? An environmental disaster made worse by federal incompetence. An unnecessary drilling moratorium that has pulled the plug on a Gulf economy already on life support. A claims process that was negotiated in secret, leaving few answers to why claims aren’t being processed and transparency is lost. A slow response that wasted clean weather days as hurricane season fast approaches, and a decision-making structure led by politics rather than duty.

Environmentally, the President and his eco-left echo chamber consciously chose to ignore the damage caused by the oil in favor of focusing on future tax increases that would expand government largesse. The Presidents initial push for cap-and-trade taxes as a response to an oil spill was so disconnected and oblivious that it was quickly brushed off by the Democrat-controlled Senate. Even so, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday cap-and-trade taxes were still possible this year if any energy legislation passes the Senate and the bill goes to conference.

Details of the Reid-Boxer bill the Senate will market as a response to the oil spill released last night confirm that increased taxes are the Majority Leader’s first priority regardless, with a “drastic increase” in the price of oil per barrel that will be paid at your local gas pump, breaking the President’s promise that taxpayers would not foot the bill for the oil spill. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) also said the bill would create a permanent “jobs moratorium” in the Gulf.

And while focus in Washington has remained on legislative matters, the Presidents administration failed to issue emergency permits to protect Louisiana’s fragile coastline. Paid-for barriers were delivered, only to sit on the sidelines, as federal bureaucrats spent months debating three-year old emergency operations plans, only to decide not to implement protective measures.

Efforts were stopped to divert oil into more easily skimmed areas. The problem of skimming the oil was made even more increasingly difficult by the questionable dispersants, authorized by the EPA, which either drove the oil under water or diluted it into impossible-to-clean droplets. And even if the oil could’ve been easily skimmed, the skimmers simply weren’t deployed, whether by ignorance of the Jones Act or an unbelievable rigidity to emergency placement. Skimmers sat in ports across America waiting for another disaster while this one went ignored.

The drilling moratorium takes what is a terrible situation for Gulf residents and turns it into a long-term economic catastrophe. President Obama is not listening to any oil and gas experts as he implements a moratorium that could affect our energy production for a decade. Two federal courts have blocked the moratorium, yet the President ignores the rule of law and proceeds with a de facto moratorium regardless. Ports are cutting rental rates, jobs are being lost, rigs are leaving the Gulf in droves and confidence in American energy contracts is being shattered. Meanwhile, this doesn’t affect rising demand, meaning an increasing dependence on foreign oil.

Jim Funk of the Louisiana Restaurant Association told New Orleans Fox 8: “You’re looking at figures as high as 30,000 high paying jobs are gonna be lost as a result of this moratorium.” And that’s just the restaurant and catering business. Layoffs in the offshore transport business have already begun. John Henry, who runs a cement company that services offshore rigs, told Forbes they’re already slowing down operations. And CNN reports, companies as far away as Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere may also lose work as a result of Obama’s jobs moratorium. These reports are all in addition to the jobs already lost on the fleeing rigs.

The complicit media chose the Presidents negotiation of a secret liability deal with BP as proof he was in charge. But while his strong-arming produced a supposed $20 billion payout, it was settled behind closed doors. Americans never saw any contract that was agreed to between our government and BP, yet that didn’t stop the media from celebrating it.

Now we learn that BP is claiming a $9.9 billion tax credit from the expenditure, meaning American taxpayers are now on the hook for half of the supposed settled amount, and the White House is once again proven inept. Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN) called the development “reprehensible.” David Desser, managing director of Juris Capital said: “You would have thought in advance of that meeting, [the White House] would’ve thought of all those issues…” Yes, you would think. Additionally, the claims process itself is operating in the dark, with state and local officials unable to track individual claims.

As Tropical Storm Bonnie approached last week, emergency and elected officials in Louisiana mobilized. The federal government did not. The clean-up operations halted, yes, and plans were in place for re-deployment. But Americans along the Gulf coast did not hear from the Secretary of Homeland Security what the governments response would be to a potential storm that would be made only worse by their own delays in the clean-up. Leadership was obvious at the state and local level. It was absent in Washington.

President Obama has made it clear he couldn’t care less about the oil spill or Gulf residents. He has barely mentioned the crisis since he gave a forced Oval Office address over a month ago. Amid complaints surrounding his three vacations this month, most recently to Maine, he reluctantly is taking his family to Florida in two weeks for a photo-op.

Florida is hospitable to this visit, since Governor Charlie Crist–formerly a Republican, now an Independent due to the pressure of primary politics–has been proven a better ally than Louisianas Governor Bobby Jindal. Louisiana residents deserve better than to have politics come between them and a responsive White House. Their share of this disaster is overwhelming, and to be so ignored is unacceptable. Yet, even leading Florida Democrats, like gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, charge the administration with being “out of touch with reality” when the White House does visit.

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned due to public pressure over the federal response to the crisis. It has now been 100 days since the deadly Deepwater Horizon accident. The clean-up efforts have failed. The moratorium is simply kicking a dying man while he is down. Who is accountable in President Obama’s administration? Apparently, nobody.

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