Conservatism: Good for Your Wallet and the Environment
A Conservative Reaction to the Gulf Oil Spill
Obama and Salzar Hold a Press Conference
Disaster response is an area where government has a legitimate role to play. When your house catches fire or someone tries to break into your store, you call 911 and some agency of the government shows up. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, several local, state, and federal agencies responded to the disaster, providing help to victims and assisting in the clean up.
While an oil spill is not quite the same as wholesale murder, the economic and environmental impacts of the spill are not insignificant. As the oil washes up on shore, the damage to the fisheries, wetlands, and beaches will severely compromise the ability of businesses in the seafood, hospitality, food, and tourism industries to operate, thereby directly affecting the livelihoods of many Gulf Coast residents.
It is, then, a proper function of the federal government to undertake preventive measures to protect the property of Gulf Coast residents and their ability to provide for themselves. As insurance of property rights is one of the most ancient functions of government, a disaster response that sought to limit the damage to the property holdings of the Gulf Coast would be within the proper realm of government action. Since such a response would be preventative in nature, it would also not require the issuance of welfare and the creation of a dependence on the government.
It is also worth noting that the Department of the Interior owns the plot of ocean at the point of the leak and leases said plot to BP. So, in many respects the problem is as much the federal government’s as it is BP’s.
In addition, as the Minerals Management Service, run out of the Department of the Interior, had regulatory authority over the Deepwater Horizon rig, the federal government also bears responsibility for what is an obvious inability to enforce its own rules. The federal government then bears direct responsibility (in addition to BP) for the explosion on the rig and the resulting spill. As such, the federal government has an obligation to assist with the clean up.
However, in many ways, the federal government’s response also underscores the importance of having a small, limited government. In part, because the government is currently focused on areas outside of its proper jurisdiction and in part, because incompetence (or perhaps negligence) is the name of the game in the current White House, the federal response to the Gulf Spill has been a total failure. The bloated federal bureaucracy is slowing down efforts to contain the spill.
Consider the Coast Guard’s decision to recall skimmers in the Gulf to conduct safety inspections of the vessels. This is a direct result of the nanny-state mentality that currently has a hold over Washington, and it is delaying the spill cleanup.
Another pertinent example is the federal government’s refusal to grant permits to the state of Louisiana for the construction of sand berms along the state’s coastline. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has claimed that “one area where sand is being dredged is a sensitive section of the Chandeleur Islands, and the state failed to meet an extended deadline to install pipe that would draw sand from a less endangered area.” Never mind that such concerns for the environmental integrity of the Chandeleur Islands will be totally irrelevant if the area is bathed in oil.
There is also the issue of the Obama Administration’s refusal to waive the Jones Act. The Jones Act is nothing but a form of trade protectionism designed and enforced by big government bureaucrats. However, it also has the nasty little side of effect of disallowing ships flying under a foreign flag to assist in the containment and clean up of the oil. While past presidents have recognized the absurd nature of the act and have waived it in times of national crisis, the current administration refuses to do so.
While it is not surprising that Our Dear Leader and His acolytes would be unwavering in their devotion to increasing the size and scope of the federal government, their decision to pursue this course is doing nothing less than exacerbating the oil spill and interfering with a speedy and efficient clean up. So, a conservative can not only approach and react to the spill with his conservatism intact, he can also respond to the spill faster and more efficiently than the big government wonks in the White House.
This is not to say that Our Dear Leader has not responded at all to the spill, only that He has done so inadequately. True to form, on June 15 and nearly two months after the rig’s explosion, the Teleprompter of the United States (here abbreviated TOTUS) took to the airwaves. To His credit, the speech did layout (however inadvertently) the fundamental cause of the current crisis. “On April 20th, an explosion ripped through BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana… And soon, nearly a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, oil began spewing into the water.” This of course begs the question, if the drilling was not taking place 40 miles offshore and a mile underwater, would the situation be as grave as it currently is? The evidence seems to suggest that the answer to this question is no.
Many of the solutions attempted by BP in the first few days of the spill were known to work in shallower waters. However, there are significant differences in the physical environment of the seafloor at depths less than 500 feet and depths over mile. So the solutions that would work in shallower waters that could quickly seal off the well do not work in situations where the leak is a mile under water.
There is also the practical consideration that it takes much longer to travel to a spill 40 miles off shore than it does to travel to one five miles off shore. The rules and regulations issued by Big Government at the behest of Big Environment that force the oil rigs into the middle of the Gulf are proving to be counter-productive and making the clean up that much more difficult. Forcing oil companies to drill in far-off, hard to reach places has had the unintended consequence of making spill containment infinitely more difficult.
Also, consider TOTUS’s proposed solution to the problem. “I assembled a team of our nation’s best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge- a team led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and our nation’s Secretary of Energy.” While it is a nice idea, unfortunately unlike the other problems that this administration has solved via committee (the economy, health care, Iran, etc.), the oil spill is not simply going to disappear when this commission designs a whole new slate of environmental regulations. While most people do not have a Nobel Prize like Steven Chu, they do recognize that what is needed in a situation such as this is clear and decisive leadership, rather than simply passing the problem off to some unnamed committee.
To date, there has been no such serious leadership coming out of the White House. While TOTUS runs around lampooning Big Oil, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (presumably the agency that would be the lead agency in such a crisis), has been traveling all over the country making speeches, attending parties, and stroking her own ego.
In the days immediately following the spill, Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, participated in filmings for the Daily Show, Late Show with David Letterman, and making appearances at various Earth Day concerts. Not until April 30, ten days after the spill, did she even find time to visit the Gulf region.
It might also make sense to incorporate the people who built and operated the well in the pursuit of a solution to the problem. However, that is unlikely to happen considering that the “boot” of Our Dear Leader’s big government is currently situated over BP’s throat.
In many respects, the successful resolution to the Apollo 13 crisis could be a model for the current situation. In that situation, NASA worked with (and not against) the corporations that built the module to come up with a workable solution that was able to safely bring the astronauts home. Imagine the alternative situation, “We realize you may die in space, but don’t worry we’ve got a committee working on it.” NASA opted for the more proactive approach, rather than waiting for the committee of experts to collect ideas and advice from “scientists at our national labs and experts from academia.” TOTUS would be wise to take the more proactive approach. Alternatively, He could simply call up Tom Hanks and ask his opinion.
The recent Gulf Spill has demonstrated nothing less than the total failure of big government. Many claim that conservatives cannot with good conscience argue for a federal role in addressing the crisis in the Gulf, however those making this claim fundamentally misunderstand the conservative approach to government. The federal government does have a role in this situation and should act accordingly.
However, recent events have displayed a lack of significant leadership in Washington just when our country needs it most. In addition, the federal government has become too bloated to fulfill some of its most fundamental obligations, in this case the protection of the homeland. The current situation highlights the need for a smaller, more limited government and the devastating consequences of a government that has become too big to function.