The Gulf: Then and Now

May 4, 2010 at 7:46am

The BP oil spill has led to the predictable comparisons between the Obama Administration’s response to this catastrophe and the Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. Most of this is ideologically motivated tripe. There’s only so much anyone can do to cap the blown well quickly; Obama isn’t supposed to swim out to cork it up himself — he did at least show up, on the ground, instead of uselessly inspecting the spreading stain from 20,000 feet, the way Dubya did in the Katrina case.

By way of additional contrast, I want to share an observation I made in September 2005 on the Bush gang’s handling of the hurricane’s aftermath. The BP story’s still being written, but let’s see in the coming weeks how it compares to this:

“I watched part of a press conference featuring Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, and several of the [Bush Administration] Cabinet secretaries from agencies involved (if that’s an appropriate characterization) in the disaster response. Each of them got up and outlined what steps his agency was taking in the early hours. The one that struck me most was the statement by Steve Johnson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Why is the EPA involved? To coordinate the cleanup of toxic chemicals, oil and sewage flowing through the uninhabitable city? To oversee restoration of potable water to the Gulf region? Nope. Steve Johnson’s first priority was to issue orders to temporarily relax clean air standards to allow polluting suppliers to boost fuel supplies.

“’Under the Clean Air Act,’ Johnson says, EPA will temporarily allow everyone in the fuel distribution chain, including refiners, importers, distributors, carriers and retail outlets “’to supply gasoline meeting a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standard of 9.0 psi in areas of the affected states where a lower RVP is required.’

“The EPA lays this all out in a press release. The agency also will temporarily allow regulated parties to supply motor vehicle diesel fuel to affected states having a sulfur content greater than 500 ppm, to head off anticipated shortages.

“I suspect there’s a logical rationale for these actions, and I certainly hope we can take Johnson at his word that these are temporary measures. But this was a press conference about a human tragedy. I want to know that the feds are doing what they can to maintain the energy supply during the crisis, but I don’t really need to know the details.

“Why this public backslapping about the relaxation of clean air standards? Call me a liberal flake, but I call it grandstanding for the administration’s right wing base, which despises clean air standards.”

Addendum: The White House published this 5/5/2010: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/05/05/ongoing-administration-wide-response-deepwater-bp-oil-spill

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