This summer, Gov. Bobby Jindal went all in when he pursued a controversial plan to respond to the calamitous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this spring. Yesterday, he played the winning hand.
Cost-effectiveness, however, still can be held hostage to political agendas and special interests, so the stalemate on permitting may continue for some time. But momentum and sentiment clearly is on Jindal’s side with this announcement, to the great benefit of Louisiana.
Jindal’s plan focused on the building of sand berms to catch oil. Some have been partially completed but most of the approximately 100-mile artificial barrier islands have not been built because of delays by federal government agencies to allow the permitting process to move forward. What has been built came under emergency permits, with the money provided by the operator responsible for the spill, BP.
Critics from when the work under the temporary permit began through the permanent permit application process argued that the berms would be ineffective in catching oil, they would be too fragile to last, they would be good only as long as the leak continued, they would be environmentally destructive in their building, and they diverted funds from better uses. Logically, these kinds of arguments failed because of the inappropriate prioritization they supported, and time now has revealed these assertions in fact as equally flawed.
Not only have the berms lasted, but they did catch a small proportion of the total oil dumped into the Gulf, that which made it to those shores and which otherwise would have fouled the coastline and estuaries. Further, with much of the oil now settled near or on the seabed, any intense weather event could fling it to the coast, so the berms will provide long-term spill protection. But, best of all, they were designed as part of a larger coastal protection plan not only for restoration purposes but also as a strategy to mitigate the destructive power of storms and their surges. While other interests inappropriately put the lives of turtles before the lives of people in their criticisms, Jindal’s view held that he could leverage the gratis berms’ oil protection function into coastal restoration and people protection function.
And his plan paid off yesterday when the overseer of federal recovery efforts for the spill, Sec. of the Navy Ray Mabus, recommended that affected states like Louisiana receive the major portion of fines paid by BP and others to deal with the damage. Not only is this very likely to be followed by Congress in its authorizations but Louisiana, unlike with the 2005 hurricane disasters where the Stafford Act constrained the maximum amount of money the state could receive in relief, will likely get its commensurate share of recovery dollars.
That amount will be in the billions of dollars and will be more than enough for Jindal’s idea to come to fruition. With the berms no longer able to be deemed as separate entities detached from a larger coastal restoration plan, pressure will be on federal agencies to drop their resistance to their construction as the overwhelming net benefits will make the uncertain presence of any potential environmental costs, if they even come about, minimal by comparison.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 08:35