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What Should President Obama Be Doing Differently to Promote the Clean Up of the Oil Spill?

Oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, but the Obama administration is still floundering around and putting out contradictory statements instead of organizing a coordinated, effective cleanup response. Instead of making rash decisions like the recent ban on offshore drilling, President Obama should exert strong leadership by activating local and foreign governments in the relief effort.

Utilize Local Governments

Local governments are not getting the assistance they need to help in the cleanup. For example, five weeks ago, officials from Escambia County, Florida requested permission from the Mobile Unified Command Center to use a sand skimmer, a device pulled behind a tractor that removes oil and tar from the top three feet of sand, to help clean up Pensacola’s beaches. County officials still haven’t heard anything back. Santa Rosa Island Authority Buck Lee explains why: Escambia County sends a request to the Mobile, Ala., Unified Command Center. Then, its reviewed by BP, the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard. If they don’t like it, they don’t tell us anything.

State and local governments know their geography, people, economic impacts and needs far better than the federal government does. Contrary to popular belief, the federal government has actually been playing a bigger and bigger role in running natural disaster responses. And as Heritage fellow Matt Mayer has documented, the results have gotten worse, not better. Local governments should be given the tools they need to aid in the disaster relief.

Take Foreign Governments Up On Their Offers for Aid

When the federal government isn’t sapping the initiative and expertise of local governments, it has been preventing foreign governments from helping. Just three days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Dutch government offered to provide ships outfitted with oil-skimming booms and proposed a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands. LA Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) supported the idea, but the Obama administration refused the help. Thirteen countries have offered to help us clean up the Gulf, and the Obama administration has turned them all down.

According to one Dutch newspaper, European firms could complete the oil spill cleanup by themselves in just four months, and three months if they work with the United States, which is much faster than the estimated nine months it would take the Obama administration to go at it alone. The major stumbling block is a protectionist piece of legislation called the Jones Act which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens. But, in an emergency, this law can be temporarily waived, as DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff did after Katrina. Each day our European allies are prevented from helping us speed up the cleanup is another day that Gulf fishing and tourism jobs die.

Ban on Offshore Drilling Will Hurt the Economy

Lastly, the Obama administrations over-expansive ban on offshore energy development is killing jobs. A panel of engineering expertswho were consulted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before he issued his May 27 report recommending a six-month moratorium on all ongoing drilling in waters deeper than 500 feetnow tell The New Orleans Times-Picayune that they only supported a six-month ban on new drilling in waters deeper than 1,000 feet. A letter from these experts reads: A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nations economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill. We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do.

And just how many innocent jobs is Obama’s oil ban killing? An earlier Times-Picayune report estimated the moratorium could cost Louisiana 7,590 jobs and $2.97 billion in revenue directly related to the oil industry.

A Better Way: Presidential Leadership

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizes the president to oversee the cleanup efforts of the responsible parties, and offshore this duty falls to the U.S. Coast Guard. Yet, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had to lobby the White House for weeks to get engaged on this front. Its time for President Obama to exert leadership. If this is his top priority, he must prove it with actions, not rhetoric. The federal government has a role in the Gulf, and its time for the president to articulate it to the American people.

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