I have been trying not to be too hard on the Obama Administration regarding their bungling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After all, this is Obama’s first real job and he’s a lawyer, not an engineer. It turns out that my forbearance in criticizing the Obama administration over this issue was largely unearned.
Three days after the explosion, the Dutch government offered to assist the United States by sending ships equipped with oil-skimming booms. It also provided a plan for creating sand barriers to protect the sensitive marshlands of the Gulf coast.
According to Geert Visser, Consul General for the Netherlands in Houston “The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
Almost seven weeks later, the administration finally relented and agreed to accept partial Dutch assistance with the cleanup. The administration has not accepted Dutch ships, but has allowed the skimming booms to be airlifted from the Netherlands and deployed in the Gulf.
Part of the problem is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act. This act is a piece of protectionist legislation which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. The provisions of this act make it illegal for the Dutch to come to our aid.
Geert Visser was noticeably confused by the administrations intransigence in refusing Dutch assistance, “What’s wrong with accepting outside help? If there’s a country that’s experienced with building dikes and managing water, it’s the Netherlands.”
The government is also making it difficult for the Dutch to provide assistance in creating sand barriers to prevent the spilled oil from reaching the gulf shores. Van Oord, a Dutch company and Deltares, a Dutch research institute provided plans to build 60 mile sand dikes and the government rebuffed their offer of assistance. The government has now changed it’s tune and has accepted the plan, but the Jones Act prevents the Dutch from operating in America’s coastal waters.
The United States Maritime Administration could issue a waiver of the Jones Act limitations, and has done so several times in the past. Doing so, however, would subject the Obama administration to criticism from labor unions who demand protection from global competition.