Thursday, June 24, 2010

Say Anything: Bobby Jindal's Hypocrisy on Science Gushes in the Gulf

Bobby Jindal's public life can be seen as a marathon wrestling match between his intellect and his political brain. The intellect is evident by the biology degree from Brown and the year-long stint at Oxford. Yet, when Jindal's political brain gains the upper hand, science gets tossed overboard as it did when the Governor signed legislation that allows the teaching of creationism in Louisiana's public schools.

Most of the time, Jindal is able to put enough distance between his intellect and his political brain to keep the differences, if not muted, then in the background. But the strain of dealing with BP Gulf Gusher and its attendant political opportunities sent Jindal into a full bi-polar eruption on science this week that calls into question the governor's mental stability.

The issues that provoked the eruption were two issues where he has staked a lot of political capital. The first issue is the berm building venture that Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser whipped up and that Jindal then rode back into the national spotlight as the 'can-do' governor. The second is the six-month deep water drilling moratorium that the Obama administration ordered in the wake of the BP Gulf Gusher.

Berms — We Don't Need No Stinkin' Science

The berm venture showed Jindal at his political best. Seeing an opportunity and talking about it until incessantly until the issue either died or he got what he wanted. In this case, he got some of what he wanted when Admiral Thad Allen recommended that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approve the construction of six berms along the coast in the hope that they might help stop some of the millions of gallons of oil that continue flowing into the Gulf from what was BP's well.

In the weeks leading up to Allen's recommendation, what is most striking about Jindal's effort on the berms is the fact that there is no hint anywhere that he and Nungesser consulted with any scientist about the project. The Governor certainly did not contact any of the scientists at any of the various coastal and estuary research centers at the state's public and private universities. He did use LUMCON as the backdrop for a press briefing but apparently never responded to an offer from the scientists there to serve as information resources to the Governor on any of the state's response efforts to the Gulf Gusher.

In fact, the only public record of Jindal and Nungesser ever having heard from scientists on the berm plan was at the June 1 meeting to discuss the matter in New Orleans, where scientists attended (at Allen's request, apparently). The fact that anyone would question their brainchild so infuriated Nungesser that he left the meeting and attacked the scientists during an encounter with reporters who met him outside the meeting room. Jindal at least stayed in the meeting but the scientists and their concerns left him unfazed.

There are no verifiable reports that our Governor sat through the meeting with his hands over his ears. There was, though, no indication that anything the Governor heard in the meeting made any impression on him, either. Jindal went into the meeting committed to dredging for berms, regardless of the facts. He maintains that position today.

That is apparently why the dredging has now been shut down. The Department of the Interior ordered it shut down after several days of trying to get the state-hired contractor to carryout the work in the manner defined in the permit and in a way that does not endanger the barrier islands the berms are intended to bolster.

According to the Times-Picayune account of the shutdown:
The state's contractors were told by the Army Corps of Engineers to shut down dredging operations Tuesday evening, after the Interior Department in Washington expressed concerns that if the state continued to dredge in the current location it could pose long-term risks for the current barrier island system. Federal officials said they had already given the state more than a week to get sand from a more distant borrow site, but that contractors have continued to ask for more time.
Predictably, Jindal erupted, railing against bureaucracy — and ignoring the science. "Get out of the way; move this bureaucracy out of the way," Jindal was quoted by the Times-Picayune as saying.

Earth to Jindal: It's the science, stupid!

The Times-Picayune explains:
Tom Strickland, assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that if the department had allowed the state to continue digging where it was digging, officials feared it would approach a "tipping point" with an "impact on that island chain that may never be restored."

The concern with the current borrow site is that sand circulating in the island system could become trapped in the borrow pit, thus accelerating land loss throughout the Chandeleur chain. According to the federal government, a site a mile farther offshore poses less of a risk.

"We're acting in good faith. We have a good working relationship with the state on so many elements of this," Strickland said. "We are going to continue to work with the state."
The problem is that the bureaucrats that Jindal and his pal Nungesser are attacking have based their decision on the hydrology of the barrier island ecosystem. What separates the people at the Department of the Interior from Jindal and Nungesser is an appreciation that the dredging has, all along, carried with it the real possibility of doing more harm to the already ravaged coast than good.

Politicians Jindal and Nungesser, having ignored the science throughout their touting of this plan and their dismissal of the science is what led to the temporary closing of their berm building operation.

The dredging for the berms is shut down precisely because Jindal insisted on ignoring what the science was telling the Department of the Interior about the currents around the barrier islands. He did this fully aware of the possible consequences, despite being warned repeatedly that it was critical.

The shutting down of the berming operation falls on Jindal's political brain overriding his intellect on the matter of science.

Moratorium — You Must Listen to the Scientists!

The second issue that runs parallel to the berm issue is the deep water drilling moratorium. Jindal has been opposed to it all along, owing in no small part to the fact that it will heavily affect some of his staunchest financial backers.

When Hornbeck Offshore, Bollinger Shipyards, Edison Chouest and other deep water oil service companies filed suit against the moratorium, Jindal had the state file an amicus brief in support of those companies. The plaintiffs list read like a list of heavy hitters from a Jindal campaign finance report.

When Judge Martin Feldman ruled against the moratorium and in favor of the service companies, Jindal pounced but in so doing revealed a disturbing disconnect in his thinking.

In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon shortly after Feldman's ruling, Jindal — the man who steadfastly rejects the scientific concerns regarding his berm building project — lashed out at the Obama administration for — get this — ignoring what scientists were saying about the safety of deep water drilling.
"Listen to your own scientific experts that met with Secretary Salazar yesterday, to say they never recommended a six-month moratorium," Jindal implored the White House. "Listen to the same experts who said that six month moratorium was not necessary to improve safety in the Gulf,"
So, ignore the widely recognized science on the berms, but heed a small group of scientists who were miffed that the Obama administration actually exercised more caution than they recommended on the moratorium.

Do you think that this caution might have something to do with the fact that the Gulf Gusher that prompted their being called in on the issue remains uncapped more than two months after it started? This despite the fact that the best minds in the industry are tackling this problem.

Or, perhaps that the emergency response plans of the other companies paying for drilling in the Gulf looked frighteningly similar to BP's non-existent flawed inadequate plan?

Unprincipled Certainty In Pursuit of Ambition

Jindal's split personality on science has always been there, but it took the close interweaving of these two issues to bring it into such sharp focus. What it really reveals is that he is a rank opportunist perhaps unrivaled in this state's rich history of rank opportunists.

Clearly, any argument he makes is valid only so long as it works for him. It is a strictly utilitarian, unprincipled approach to truth. It is whatever he says it is. The fact that he can debase the value of science one minute while extolling it the next on a subject related to the first topic puts Jindal well outside the moral certitude crowd of modern day conservatism. The only thing Jindal is certain about is his desire to become president. His own advancement is the only principle he holds dear.

What his bi-polar approach to science demonstrates is that he will say anything so long as it fits his purpose and advances his personal cause. For proof, look no further the fiscal conservatives he just betrayed in the Louisiana Legislature.


K. said...

I spent 20 years working on the development of complex products. While software engineering and civil engineering are not the same, I'd bet the pre-meltdown value of my house that they share these two principles:

1. If the advocates of a project say six months to completion, count on at least twelve.

2. If the project has never been tried, all bets are off, and I mean all bets. The end result is as likely or more likely to be a counterproductive incomplete boondoggle as it is to accomplish anything positive. And in any case, it will not live up to its advance billing.

Excuse while I rail on Jindal, but what the hell: I seem to have found a kindred spirit. He says "Our message to the federal government is lead or get out of the way." If the federal government withdrew the Coast Guard and the dozen agencies working on the spill, Jindal would crap his britches, and I don't mean figuratively. The stench emanating from the Lousiana governor's office would permeate the walls of Fort Knox with the pungency of a thousand rotting nutrias. Jindal would crawl to Washington on his hands and knees to beg Barack Obama for help and publicly declare that any way the president wanted to handle the BP/Halliburton Catastrophe was fine by Bobby Jindal. Just to make sure that the message had gotten through, Jindal would call an international press conference to beg for cap-and-trade legislation, then go to New Orleans and kiss Al Gore's butt on Canal Street at high noon and swear on the Holy Bible that it smelled like roses.

Mike Stagg said...

K., you've got Jindal pegged. Don't know if you saw Len Bahr's op-ed in the Times-Picayune this week? Took Jindal to the woodshed on the berms. Here's a link:

K. said...

I read it, and was more than a little surprised that the TP ran it. I hate to say it, but if this guy's got a 74% approval rating, a lot of Louisianans are drinking straight from the gusher.

Bureaucracies will never move quickly, regardless of the situation. Having said that, it appears that whenever the feds draw the ire of Jindal and Nungesser, their hesitancy turns out be justified. The response that gets me is when they scoff at environmental concerns: I would think that, under the circumstances, that's one thing everyone would want to get right,

This is a great blog, and writing takes some guts. Good luck.

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