The Line Between General And State Government
June 24, 2010 by Bob Livingston
The recent dustups between Gulf States and the Federal government over BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher cleanup efforts demonstrate the folly of a gargantuan, obtrusive and obtuse Federal government trying to micromanage an operation that should be coordinated locally.
First there was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his idea to build what would essentially have been barrier islands to intercept the oil before it reached the state’s delicate marshlands. Then there were efforts by Alabama Governor Bob Riley to string a massive system of booms to keep oil off the Alabama coastline and out of Mobile Bay.
These efforts were delayed by days and weeks while the Federal bureaucracy stumbled and bumbled over whether the ideas were good ones, or whether others might be better. Meanwhile, oil began washing up on shore.
Then there was halting of the cleanup efforts of some of the local governments by the Federal environmental police due to a perceived risk to some wildlife.
Finally, the coup de grâce, the Coast Guard’s forced docking of oil sucking barges off the Louisiana coast to check whether there were enough life preservers on board.
The Federal government proved during the hurricane Katrina aftermath, the Deepwater Horizon aftermath and in countless other ways that when it tries to get involved on a local level it only succeeds in getting in its own way—and in the way of those actually doing something.
As Riley complained of the so-called unified command in charge of the oil spill cleanup effort, each member of the command had veto power over any idea. One would raise a good fix and another would veto it because it might harm a turtle or cause a worker some discomfort (as in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ruling that beach cleanup workers could only labor 20 minutes of each hour because of the heat).
In response to the Federal government’s inaction, Jindal decided to build the islands himself. Riley ordered municipalities along Alabama’s beaches to do what they needed to do to clean the beaches and promised them compensation. Municipalities in Florida are doing the same thing. And all are avoiding involving the Feds whenever possible.
During the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention James Wilson, speaking on the line dividing powers between general (Federal) government and particular state governments, said:
“Are disputes between the general government and the state governments to be necessarily the consequence of inaccuracy? I hope, sir, they will not be the enemies of each other, or resemble comets in conflicting orbits, mutually operating destruction; but that their motion will be better represented by that of the planetary system, where each part moves harmoniously within its proper sphere, and no injury arises by interference or opposition.”
So far those disputes resemble comets in conflicting orbits rather than harmonious planets. Let’s hope the Feds will get out of the governors’ way and just make sure the funds needed for the local efforts are there.
The Coast Guard is rightfully overseeing cleanup efforts in the Gulf. But its time could be better spent monitoring oil skimming operations than worrying over whether a barge operator who has spent a lifetime at sea is wearing his lifejacket.
And as for the oil spewing forth from 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface 40 miles out, that’s where the Feds should be concentrating their efforts. They should be providing BP with all the assistance it needs to contain the gusher. And that means bringing in top oil drilling experts from around the world and any other materiel or resources other countries may provide.
It also should mean for the Federal government to get its boot off BP’s neck. It’ll be a lot easier to work that way. There will be plenty of opportunity for the government to get its pound (or ton) of flesh once the gusher is capped and oil is no longer lapping along the beautiful Gulf Coast.