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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill/Jones Act Debate: Obama Defenders Blindly Support Their Chief

You don't have to search far on Google for links to pages on top of pages of commentary on the Jones Act and whether it is or is not inhibiting the clean-up effort in the Gulf. On the right, you have people who will say it's all Obama's fault (as I have vaguely suggested here) and on the left you have just the opposite. FactCheck.Org has sallied forth with an analysis that claims the criticisms are all a right wing conspiracy to discredit the President. So, what's the truth?

If you're one of the President's and the Administration's big defenders I'm quite certain you won't believe me when I tell you that the Jones Act was and is continuing to inhibit efforts by foreign ship owners to assist in the clean-up. But this doesn't mean that the arguments posted by FactCheck.Org and the President's supporters are completely wrong. On the contrary, most of them are right. For example, "Obama hasn't refused to suspend the Jones Act." And, "the Coast Guard and the Administration haven't refused offers of help from foreign-owned vessels." There are some 45 foreign vessels working in the Gulf, and the maritime industry and Coast Guard professionals who are quoted in the commentary said what they believe to be true.

All facts. All carefully worded.

Unfortunately, the facts really don't tell the story, nor do the facts matter very much when the perceived restrictions of the Jones Act are just as inhibiting as those that are legally imposed and binding.

The owners of the Super-Skimmer A Whale have come out and said they can't start operations without a waiver or exemption from the federal government. Does it matter that they're wrong about the Jones Act applying to them if they perceive that it does and the perception has curtailed their effort to aid in the clean-up? Of course not.

In fact, I don't care what FactCheck.Org is saying. The Jones Act has prevented large oil recovery ships from aiding in the clean-up and/or from mobilizing in a timely matter. The 45 or 23% foreign owned vessels reported to be part of the clean-up fleet are what, exactly? Are they large, special-purpose recovery vessels that can actually make a difference, or are they almost-useless little skimmers and boom tenders that U.S. companies don't really care about? Perhaps some of them are large specially-rigged offshore oil service vessels that have been here on a Jones Act waiver all along and are part of a previously established oil exploration mission. These in the latter category are here, have been here for awhile, but are not specially designed for oil recovery operations. Again, no threat to American labor interests.

What is the big deal of temporarily suspending the Jones Act? If all these defenders of the Administration are so convinced the Jones Act isn't impeding the clean-up effort, then why not suspend it temporarily. Why hassle with the waivers, the applications, the paper work, the perceptions, the delays, the bureaucracy? What's the harm in suspending it? The precedent is there. If you ask me, it's because if the President suspends the Jones Act at this late date, more than two months after the catastrophic explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, people will see the truth for what it is: the Administration not wanting to give up even one inch of government control.

If I were a foreigner who owned an Very Large Offshore Recovery Vessel (VLOSRV) or two that cost $50,000 to $100,000 or more a day to run, I would want to send it to the site of an oil spill disaster as soon as possible, but not out of the goodness of my heart. I would do it for the work, for the money. If it takes ten to twenty days to get it from the Persan Gulf or the North Sea to the U.S. Gulf Coast, I'm looking at some serious costs. Why would I order my fleet to move without knowing from the start I could put my ships to work and get my crews paid?


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