Friday, June 11, 2010

Does Obama Care More About Protecting Unions Than Cleaning Up Oil Spill?

Why hasn't he accepted cleanup help from friends overseas?

Readers may recall that ABC's White House correspondent Jake Tapper asked Obama this at the one and only formal news conference he has held since July 2009:

TAPPER: You say that everything that could be done is being done, but there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that’s not true. Governor Jindal obviously had this proposal for a barrier. They say that if that had been approved when they first asked for it, they would have 10 miles up already. There are fishermen down there who want to work, who want to help, haven’t been trained, haven’t been told to go do so. There are industry experts who say that they’re surprised that tankers haven’t been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in ’93 outside Saudi Arabia. And then, of course, there’s the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help and it’s only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico. How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these experts and all these officials saying that’s not true?
Obama could accept help from overseas, but he would have to issue a waiver under the Jones Act which was passed in 1920 to protect America's maritime industry. In other words, to save union jobs. After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005 President Bush did issue a waiver.

Here's more detail from the Heritage Foundation:

Within days of the oil spill, several European nations and thirteen countries in total apparently offered the Obama administration ships to assist in the clean-up of the Gulf. When asked about this, a State Department press spokesman refused to identify any offers of assistance.

According to one newspaper, European firms could complete the task in four months, rather than an estimated nine months if done only by the U.S. Working with the U.S., the cleanup could be accomplished in three months. The Belgian firm DEME contends it can clean up the oil with accuracy at a depth of 2,000 meters. Another European firm with capabilities is the Belgian firm Jan De Nul Group. There are also Dutch companies with similar special equipment capable of accelerating cleaning-up the Gulf. The Belgians and the Dutch are also long time NATO allies and as such partners in international security cooperation.

According to the article, no U.S. companies have the ships which can accomplish this task is because those ships would cost twice as much to build in the U.S. as they do outside the country. This is one adverse impact of the Jones Act, which Congress passed in 1920s. This piece of protectionism has only hampered an anemic American maritime industry. It also has prevented a quicker response to the oil spill. European firms do have the expertise to clean up the spill.

If other nations have the technologies to address this oil spill, then the administration does have the ability to accept their help: in response to Hurricane Katrina, for example, Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff temporarily waived the Jones Act in order to facilitate much-needed transport of oil throughout the country.

The Jones Act, which is supposedly about protecting jobs, is actually killing jobs. The jobs of fishermen, people working in tourism and others who live along the Gulf Coast and earn a living there are being severely impacted. There are also additional private sector jobs which are NOT being created in the United States since the Jones Act effectively prices U.S. based companies out of the ability to be competitive on the competitive global market.

Could it be that Obama's strong ties to big labor is what prevents him from accepting the help that would clean up the spill and save the environment and the lives of those living along the Gulf?

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