July 28, 2010 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

Hayward First, Who Next?

More than 90 days of oil polluting our environment was enough for BP. The company finally decided to hold its Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward accountable, dismissing him this week.

It was high time someone’s head rolled. Hayward’s immediate response to the crisis was not reassuring. Add to that, BP’s alleged role in the release of the Lockerbie terrorist Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, and a 40 percent drop in market value. No wonder BP stockholders wanted someone better.

But is Hayward the only person we should hold accountable for this catastrophe? No. BP may be responsible for the oil flowing into the Gulf, but President Barack Obama is responsible for it still sitting there — and for the destruction of the regional economy.

Heritage Foundation analysts spent the last three weeks in Louisiana studying the response. We heard from fishermen, port workers, drilling crews and energy and environment experts — and learned firsthand that the federal response — or lack thereof — helped turn this crisis into a disaster.

Obama has been almost completely absent. Since speaking to the nation from the Oval Office on June 15, nearly two months after the deadly explosion, he has barely mentioned the disaster publicly.

Obama’s next visit to the Gulf will be a forced vacation in Florida, most likely to blunt criticism the notoriously thin-skinned president took while vacationing in Maine. Why Florida? Because Charlie Crist is a more welcoming governor than his Louisiana counterpart, Bobby Jindal, who may have tough questions.

Putting fear of accountability above duty is one thing. But this is worse; it’s politics. Florida, after all, is a swing state. Louisiana isn’t. So the state that has suffered a significant share of the crisis is ignored because there’s no hope it can be won in 2012.

Preceding Obama’s visit was another to Florida by first lady Michelle Obama and, before that, Vice President Joe Biden. Is politics alone keeping this administration from listening to the people of Louisiana?

Even Florida Democrats are griping. Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink told Politico she was embarrassed by Biden’s visit, calling it “out of touch with reality.” The White House dispatched communications teams to repair the political damage, rather than the environmental damage. It was the fastest they’ve moved since the disaster began.

And what damage has the administration caused? By not issuing permits for emergency protective measures fast enough — and, in most cases, not at all — rare habitats and coastal Louisiana wetlands that protect the state from storms and tides are being destroyed.

BP and local officials had paid-for rock jetties sidelined for months before being told they couldn’t use them. Barges were blocked from siphoning oil into collectable areas. Questionable dispersants were used that may have pushed oil underwater, where its potential damage remains unseen.

The president’s response? Use the crisis to push an unrelated cap-and-trade agenda. This was so shockingly irresponsible it was considered dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Yet this week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said any energy legislation that passes the Senate this year will have cap-and-trade taxes added to it in conference. They won’t give up on this disconnected response.

Obama also imposed a drilling moratorium. He ignored two federal court orders, and failed to listen to any oil and gas experts. People are losing jobs and income because the president doesn’t understand the industry he’s trying to control.

This isn’t simply about the rig workers who have seen rigs leave the Gulf. This is about the restaurant industry that caters to them. It’s about the helicopter fleets, cement shops and factories nationwide that support this industry.

The only responsive measure that earned Obama credit with the media was strong-arming BP into a secret liability agreement. Now we learn that the $20 billion number the president touted was a fabrication.

The White House either failed to account for standard tax deductions when negotiating the settlement, which would prove incompetence, or it knew all along the settlement was for less than $20 billion, which would prove deception.

Meanwhile, claims still aren’t being paid. There’s no transparency in the process. And the public has yet to see any details of the brokered deal.

As Tropical Storm Bonnie threatened the Gulf Coast, clean-up operations halted. If the storm had built steam, it would’ve caused even greater damage -- given the countless good-weather days this administration has wasted not cleaning the water. Jindal was on television briefing the state, discussing evacuations -- actually leading. Obama’s only disruption caused by the bad weather? A shortened golf game.

Since this crisis began, the Obama cabinet has been largely ineffective and incompetent. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and White House officials spent the early days disagreeing on what little they knew and the later days in complete hiding.

After Katrina, America demanded accountability from the federal government. FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned on Sept. 12, 2005 -- 15 days after Katrina made landfall. Fifteen days.

After 100 days, who will be accountable for Obama’s response? America’s shareholders deserve an answer.

Rory Cooper is director of strategic communications for The Heritage Foundation.

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Rory Cooper Director, Communications
Communications

First appeared in Politico