Thoughts On The Sand-Berm Food Fight…

Our readers might notice we’ve spent a good bit of time this week defending Gov. Bobby Jindal against comers near and far on a number of issues. Please be advised that on Monday, we’re going to weigh in on some of the budget proposals the Governor has floating around, and we’re not going to be overly complimentary.

But that’s Monday. Today, you can still accuse us of shilling for Bobby. Because we’re going to take up for him on the sand berm issue.

If you haven’t seen it, this week President Obama’s oil spill commission offered up an opinion that the berms, for which Jindal howled and screamed for a month to secure BP resources after the Deepwater Horizon spill, were “underwhelmingly effective, and overwhelmingly expensive,” as they only captured about 1,000 barrels of oil.

BP funded the sand berm project to the tune of $360 million. Some $220 million of that figure has already been spent on 14 of the 25 miles of sand berms that the project will complete by the 1st of the year.

The spill commission, which let’s remember was a fairly heavily-politicized group at its inception and contains no engineering expertise in its own right, seemed to take a somewhat-vitriolic view of the berm project in its release yesterday…

“From the perspective of the Commission staff … $220 million for a spill response measure that trapped not much more than 1,000 barrels of oil is not a compelling cost-benefit tradeoff.”

And…

“The Commission staff can comfortably conclude that the decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed. But whether it was flawed at the time, or only flawed in retrospect, with the benefit of hindsight, is not a question this paper seeks to answer.”

The verbiage in the report touched off an orgy of lefty guffawing and finger-pointing at Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who joined the governor in loudly demanding the berms. The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach writes up the circumstances behind the decision to build the berms thusly…

The presidential commission report makes clear that the plan was cockamamie from the start and overwhelmingly opposed by every sensible person who examined it. To his credit, Allen resisted the immense political pressure from the Louisiana officials and approved only a tiny demonstration “prototype” of such a berm, hoping, apparently, that it would make the issue go away. But the very next day, in Grand Isle, La., Obama met with Jindal, Nungesser, Allen and other officials and — after getting an earful from the Louisiana politicians — put Allen on the spot, asking him if he would conduct a review of the proposal within the next week.

“The request from the President ‘hamstrung’ the Admiral, forcing him to re-open the berms debate,” the report states. And “hamstrung,” fyi, is Allen’s word.

So the next week Allen gathered a bunch of experts, who apparently were cowed and tongue-tied with the Louisiana political establishment staring at them from a few feet away, and no one said outright and definitively that the berms were ludicrous. Allen then approved the project.

Meanwhile Jeff Neumann of the celebrity-gossip sewer Gawker.com laid into the governor, closing with a bit of rudeness

Jindal responded with a typically shitty statement, calling the report “partisan revisionist history at taxpayer expense,” which means we can call Bobby’s Berms “the result of very little scientific evidence, at the environment, and people of Louisiana’s expense,” right? So, to all of the Gulf residents struggling to squeeze money out of BP in the wake of the oil spill, you can thank Bobby Jindal for sucking up hundreds of millions of dollars for a joke of a relief project.

And closer to home, Jindal took a beating from the neo-Communists at the Daily Suckerfish

Now we know Jindal’s naked ambition likely cost the real victims of the BP oil spill disaster more than $200m in potential claim dollars…

Instead, Jindal demanded that the Feds approve, and shake down BP for, a $360m sand berm project that almost no coastal or environmental scientist on the planet believed would serve any useful purpose for oil spill response. In fact, scientific opinion was not only ignored, it was not even consulted in preparation of the plans.

Jindal isn’t the only one with egg all over his face. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser blustered his way onto every TV in America to decry the Federal response. His sweaty, rotund, everyman couldn’t have been better cast in Hollywood. Unforuntately for folks that could have used that BP money, he never let the facts get in the way of a good story. 

The screeching at Jindal about the sand berms from both the politicians on the oil spill commission and the left-wing writers around the internet is amusing on lots of levels. First of all, as even Achenbach admits at the end of his Post piece, the commission left out a fairly important event in the six-day interlude between the Corps of Engineers telling Jindal and Nungesser to get bent and Obama “hamstringing” Thad Allen into approving the $360 million project. That event would be the failure of BP’s “top kill” at the Macondo well site, which set off a fairly substantial panic about the inability to stop the oil from coming out of the well. At that point wild speculations abounded that the well couldn’t be killed because the sea floor was compromised, that there was more than 100,000 barrels a day billowing out of the well, and so on. And when BP couldn’t kill the well with what was thought to be their best option short of a relief well, it all of a sudden became VERY prudent to begin addressing efforts at oil capture at locations beyond the well site.

Jindal proposed sand berms. He also proposed skimmers, vacuum barges, laying boom and all kinds of other methods to keep the oil out of Louisiana’s marshes. And the same geniuses who fought him on the berms fought him on virtually every other solution the state and local governments attempted to throw at the problem.

In fact, about the only thing the federal government did with any degree of aggression and decisiveness in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill was to ban drilling for oil in the Gulf, despite the fact that there was the same kind of derision among the experts for that idea than there was about Jindal’s sand berms.

But of course, both ideas were based in more than just a response to the spill.

Jindal’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves took major issue with the spill commission’s characterization of the berm project. “This is just fiction. This is not an accurate report,” he said.

“Doing nothing was not an option for us as we fought to protect our coast – especially as the threat of oil moving further into our interior wetlands loomed,” Graves said, quoting a letter he wrote Thursday to Richard Lazarus, executive director of the Oil Spill Commission, in response to the report.

Graves said the thousand barrel figure came from him in the context of one photograph of one berm over one day. He said he doesn’t know how much oil was blocked by the berms.

“Yet they’re trying to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of the berms based on the amount of oil. There’s no data that exists,” Graves said.

If you’re not convinced by Graves’ argument against the spill commission, that’s fine. Back up a second and remember his title. He runs the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. In other words, Graves had the sand berm plan at the ready because it’s a coastal restoration project that the state needed anyway. There isn’t a lot of argument out there saying that rebuilding barrier islands won’t aid in coastal restoration efforts.

It just so happens that those sand berms had an application in fighting the oil. Maybe they didn’t help a great deal in keeping oil out of the marshes. So what?

From a Louisiana perspective, Jindal got a $360 million coastal restoration project done at no cost to the taxpayers. And the idiots at the Daily Suckerfish are complaining about it.

Why? Because they think that the coastal restoration project will take money away from BP claimants. Of course, they don’t offer any evidence to the effect that the sand berms ate up the last $360 million in BP’s $20 billion claim fund. In fact, if I’m not mistaken the claim fund and the check for the berms came from completely different accounts; BP was legally reponsible for the sand berms as part of the cost of spill cleanup when the federal government so dictated, while the $20 billion to pay claims was a voluntary offering above and beyond the $75 million federal law dictated was the limit for claims.

Incidentally, while Jindal managed to get some things done on those berms and has most of the project finished, it doesn’t appear that the federal government is doing such a hot job of managing the claim fund. There’s a rather comical story in the Advocate today about a number of BP claimants who hit the State Capitol yesterday to gripe about slow checks from Obama’s payment czar Ken Feinberg, who has denied over 300,000 claims and paid out only $2.5 billion of his $20 billion stack. Emergency payments out of that fund have apparently stopped, so those who’ve recovered less than they believe is due them are quite unhappy. And the protestors took to the Capitol as caterers set up for the legislature’s annual Christmas party, chanting “Give us a check!” and sticking around for the spread to be put out in the mistaken belief that they were the intended recipients – which made for yet another disappointment for BP and Feinberg’s rejected claimants. As it now turns out, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has joined his counterparts from Texas, Alabama and Florida in recommending that BP claimants talk to a lawyer before dealing with Feinberg owing to his questionable record of forking over settlement cash.

But back to the issue at hand, unless you’re a BP shareholder the only reason you’d complain about the sand berm project is that you hate Jindal. And that doesn’t particularly qualify as intelligent political commentary. Naturally, we’re not suffering a stupidity deficit in this state, so the phenomenon of local folks hammering the governor on this issue isn’t a surprise. And the hyper-partisan hack jobs by the national folks, well, they’re not hard to figure out. Sure, they aren’t seeing things from a Louisiana perspective – but seeing as though this was BP money and not taxpayer dollars, Neumann and Achenbach really don’t have much of a complaint to make.

Except, of course, that Obama was buffaloed into the sand berms by Louisiana politicians with an alternate agenda. How horrible.

Does anyone cry for the president? His expert panel told his energy/climate tsarina Carol Browner than a drilling moratorium wouldn’t do anything at all to promote safety on offshore rigs. All it would do is decrease the amount of domestic oil being produced, and in so doing increase the number of oil tankers traversing the Gulf on their way to Port Fourchon. And since oil spills from tankers are 10 times more likely than spills from offshore rigs, the ban has greatly increased the risk of another spill.

So the moratorium Browner put in place, which has cost tens of thousands of jobs in Louisiana and not made us any safer from oil spills, was either a product of total stupidity and incompetence, or it came from an alternate agenda. And it’s pretty clear that was the case. Browner’s friends in the envirofascist movement hate oil, and they want to ban drilling for it everywhere they can. We mention this all the time, but in 1999 after seven years of Carol Browner running EPA for the Clinton administration the Gulf rig count had fallen to 499, a modern low. That wasn’t an accident.

So Jindal has his agenda, Obama/Browner have theirs. Which one is worse?

Jeff Sadow suggests that the people of Louisiana ought to be happy Jindal took on this fight, and he’s correct. For all the publicity Rahm Emanuel got for his “never let a crisis go to waste” quote, in this case Jindal gets credit for showing the Obama administration precisely how to manage a crisis for the benefit of his constituents. The guess here is the politicians on that spill commission understand that perfectly, and in their role running interference for the president they’ve got little choice but to attack Jindal on the sand berms as a result.

And this episode proves that for all his diminished prestige Obama still has useful idiots to carry his water. And Jindal still has lots of enemies waiting in every nook and cranny to attack him.



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