Sunday, May 9, 2010

Jindal vs. Jindal: The Governor fights his own policies in BP Gulf Gusher

As the catastrophe that is the BP Gulf Gusher unfolds, Governor Bobby Jindal is finding that he is scrambling to deal with forces that he and his allies did much to unleash. The governor has met the enemy and it is himself — or, at least, the product of his earlier work.

As Congressman from Louisiana's First Congressional District, Jindal was the leading House proponent of the legislation that opened up that section of the Gulf of Mexico where the BP well now gushes thousands of barrels of oil per day into the open water, threatening Louisiana's economy and the fragile ecology of our coastal wetlands.

There was a time when Jindal was fighting with Senator Mary Landrieu over who should get credit for opening up this area to drilling and the higher royalty rates that production in those waters would bring to Louisiana. That argument seems to have gone quiet in recent weeks as the damage from the BP accident mounts.

Now, after years of downplaying or ignoring the adverse environmental impact of the oil and gas industry on the state, Jindal is embracing a radical strategy to hurriedly buildup barrier islands by dredging the Gulf to fill in gaps between barrier islands in a desperate attempt to prevent the oil from the underwater gusher from reaching the state's coastal estuaries. Consistent with his past, though, Jindal wants to launch the work without an environmental impact study.

The idea to restore the barrier islands has been around for years, but Jindal never took up the cause — even back in his first year in office when the state had a budget surplus.

Now, with the state strapped for cash and confronted with an economic, ecological and environmental catastrophe that he and his energy buddies long maintained could never happen, Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billie Nungesser will meet on Monday to pitch their plan to BP executives and the Coast Guard.

This lunging from position to position is evidence that protection of the coast and environmentalism is new to Jindal. The moves smack of having no grounding in the subject matter. The proposed solutions illustrate a lack of understanding of the complexity of the issue and the hazards that the proposed solutions entail.

The oil that once fed Louisiana's government and families is now eating Bobby Jindal's lunch.

Moving Day at The Office

The clearest sign that the Jindal administration was completely unprepared for an incident like what has become the BP Gulf Gusher can be found in a bureaucratic move he made at the start of the current fiscal year. That's when Jindal moved the Louisiana Offshore Oil Spill Coordinator's Office out of the Office of the Governor and down into the bureaucracy of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

According to the LOSCO website, "LOSCO’s primary function is to ensure effective coordination and representation of the state’s interests in all matters related to spill response and prevention." It is worth noting that the homepage of the LOSCO site has not been updated since 2006.

One area of the site that has been updated is the "Contact/Staff" page, which was updated on April 30. There the physical location of the office is given as the Department of Public Safety & Corrections' Public Safety Services office near the Baton Rouge airport.

Jindal buried LOSCO so deep in the bureaucracy that it is not mentioned anywhere on either the full Department of Public Safety and Corrections site, nor on the Public Safety site run by the Louisiana State Police.

It was not always like this.

State Representative Sam Jones of Franklin headed the LOSCO office in the administration of Governor Kathleen Blanco. Jones told The Advocate that the move demonstrated a lack of institutional knowledge on Jindal's part.

“The onus being who responds to a disaster? The governor,” said Jones, D-Franklin, one of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s closest aides.

Jones said the oil spill coordinator now must navigate DPS’ hierarchy before reaching the governor’s ear.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, who oversees DPS, confirmed Jones' analysis of the layers of bureaucracy now between LOSCO and the governor, but denied there was any delay in getting information to the governor. Edmonson said he advises the governor based on information from the staff at the Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office.

“I know what’s going on. I’m briefed every morning,” he said.

Edmonson told The Advocate that Roland Guidry, the head of the Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, is on the ground responding to the disaster. What does that mean? Is he deploying boom or holding Jindal's jacket?

Dredge, Baby, Dredge!

At the heart of the catastrophe that is building as a result of the BP Gulf Gusher is the fact that nothing on this scale has ever happened before. The damage inflicted to Louisiana's coast and wetlands by the oil and gas industry has been a slow-motion disaster best viewed through a time-lapse perspective. The BP Gulf Gusher, on the other hand, is happening now and at an alarming rate.

It's not like people did not know that this was possible. Still, through effective lobbying, BP successfully fought federal moves to force them to include safety measures on the rig that might have prevented the current catastrophe.

Still, the scale of the problem is forcing techniques to be used that have never been tried on this scale before — like the thus far unsuccessful attempt to drop a coffer dam over the blowout preventers to capture the oil. It worked in shallower waters on a smaller scale, but came up short over the weekend. Another try will be made early this week.

Using dispersants is another approach that has worked on smaller scale spills. In this incident, though, it is raising serious concerns about the impact of these toxins on aquatic life. Do we risk killing our fisheries in our attempt to save them?

Confronted with an unabated flow of oil from the floor of the Gulf that might be five times larger than official estimates of 5,000 barrels per day, Governor Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser will push a plan to dredge areas of the Gulf near barrier islands in an attempt to use the spoil to catch the oil before it hits the marshlands and estuaries.

The Times-Picayune reports that rough drafts of the plan show filling in gaps within the Chandeleur Islands, east of the Mississippi River and Breton Sound, and building up barrier islands to protect the Barataria Basin west of the river. Nungesser had similar plans on the shelf already, as part of a coastal restoration and storm protection initiative that the parish has been discussing with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Professor Robert Twilley of LSU's School of the Coast and Environment told The Advocate's Outdoor Editor Joe Macaluso that there are no good options at this point.

“We have to remember that our coast is more than the wetlands, and when you place dispersants and it affects the bottom of the seabeds along the Continental Shelf, that it affects our entire ecosystem in some way,” Twilley said.

“The seabed there is a very rich biological system and the fishing is great along the shelf, and we can discount the effect it has on our shoreline,” he said.

“We need to appreciate that our wetlands, our barrier islands and our offshore fishing are intertwined,” Twilley said. “And understand that everybody loses, no matter where this oil goes, because it will touch something. We just have to minimize the effects.”

The rush to try to do something — anything — to attempt to mitigate the damage from the oil carries its own risks.

That would require taking a more patient perspective than Jindal seems capable of achieving.

The Political Posturing Continues

Despite his efforts to appear rising above the politics that seem to influence his every move, Jindal can't put it aside.

In an email to supporters this week, Jindal lists three parish presidents he's working with to deal with the BP Gulf Gusher — Nungesser, St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, and St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. That's all fine and proper.

However, the Governor failed to mention one president he met with regarding the response to the spill during the past week.

Apparently, the name of the Democratic President of the United States is still too jarring for Jindal to mention to his supporters. No, even with all of this at stake — a large segment of our economy, the future of our coast and marshlands — Jindal still can't bring himself to play this straight.

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