If I Were President

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by: Nancy Matthis at American Daughter

Our writers here at American Daughter have been critical of Obama’s response to the oil disaster. Reader MaryAnne reasonably asks:

Could you please detail exactly what you think Obama should personally do about BP’s complete disregard for the safety of its workers and the destruction of Gulf Coast beaches? I have gone to the trouble of reading some of your past posts and have yet to see you offer one workable solution to any of the problems you address.

I haven’t done this until now, because it doesn’t make any difference what I would have done. The mission of our news magazine is to inform our readers of the capabilities and shortcomings of public figures, so they can make informed decisions about their political activism, financial support and voting. But such a discussion may offer a useful baseline for comparison, and it certainly is something that I have given a lot of thought. Here’s what I would do if I were president:

  1. If I were president, I would immediately assume personal executive responsibility for the response to one of the greatest environmental disasters to face our planet, that happened under United States jurisdiction. I would NEVER abdicate that authority to any profit-motivated corporation. I would use every legal means to force that corporation to finance the clean-up, but I would manage the clean-up myself, by delegating tasks to my government officials.
  2. The assessment of “guilt, fault and blame” is only useful if it prevents future mistakes based on “lessons learned.” And technological mistakes usually result from policy driven by wishful thinking rather than scientific data. In this respect, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is almost an exact reprise of the Challenger disaster, in which decision makers ignored the warnings of scientific personnel about the O-ring’s potential failure at freezing temperatures.

    If I were president, I would immediately make it perfectly clear and well understood by the public that the deepwater drilling was promoted during the Clinton administration (the Outer Continental Shelf Deepwater Royalty Relief Act of 1995) without due consideration of disaster contingencies. Our government gave British Petroleum a “categorical exclusion” for the well during the Obama administration. I would do this, not to indulge in partisan finger-pointing at Democrats, but to prevent the root administrative causes and lax safety standards of our own government agencies from being obscured by Democrat partisans throwing up smoke-screens about Dick Cheney’s relationships with the oil industry.

  3. Within hours of the first phone call notifying the White House of the rig explosion, I would have assembled a crisis team, booked a hotel on the Gulf Coast and taken the whole team there on location to assume personal positive control of the situation. Within the first twenty-four hours I would have convened an emergency meeting with the governors of the Gulf States. For the entire duration of the crisis, I would not have played one hour of golf, nor done anything else but be the country’s executive-in-chief.

    To be president of the United States is an honor and it is an executive position, a management position and a good executive “rests in action.” A qualified executive does not need the personal recreation of sports or parties to “recharge his batteries.” He draws his strength and energy from his passion for the job, from the personal satisfaction of giving his hands and heart to the cause and knowing he has done his best.

  4. Upon first being notified of the rig explosion, I would have placed an emergency call to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I would have decreed, under the executive powers, that she bypass the normal protocols for data calculation and delivery, assemble her best scientists immediately (waking them up if necessary) and get back to me within eighteen hours with her best estimate of the latitude/longitude coordinates of the point above the blown hole where the center of the oil “volcano” was most likely to first breach the ocean surface.

    I would have asked the Gulf State governors to mobilize their National Guards to protect the beaches and wetlands, and asked Congress for emergency funding for same. I would have tasked the Secretary of the Navy to identify some Naval assets in the Gulf for assisting oil containment operations. I would have instructed the Coast Guard to immediately mobilize a fleet of boats on standby, awaiting the NOAA calculations. As soon as the NOAA coordinates were received, I would have had the Coast Guard deploy five widely spaced concentric rings of oil booms around the NOAA-calculated surface point. The containment booms would have been in place within two days, tops. (Those measures would impede, but not prevent, the spread of oil. They would buy time for dredging and bio-remediation.)

  5. I would have ordered dredging to begin immediately to create sand reefs connecting the barrier islands offshore from sensitive wetlands and marshes, to protect the pelican rookeries and sea turtle hatching grounds from contamination. As executive-in-chief, I would have taken the responsibility for my decision and not hidden behind the requirement for an Environmental Protection Agency impact study that could take months or years.
  6. Under the authority of the Executive Powers, I would have forbidden British Petroleum or any other agency from using the toxic chemical dispersant Corexit 9500. I would have personally taken the responsibility for ordering the bio-remediation of oil-eating microbes, stored in large enough quantities in Texas warehouses.
  7. With respect to the potential for environmentally friendly solutions, I would have immediately tasked Cornell University’s Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering to recommend plant-based bio-remediation. I would have used discretionary grant money for a crash program aimed at the specifics of the Gulf situation.

    I would also have used discretionary grant money to task Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences to do a systems analysis of the oil spill response and to quantify risk factors associated with various strategies — chemical dispersant, burn-off, booms, reefs, skimmers, bio-remediation via plants or microbes. (I have no doubt that the combination of chemical dispersant and burn-off currently being implemented is the worst possible choice with respect to long-term environmental considerations. It has short-term cosmetic appeal, in that it masks the full dimensions of the disaster, but we will pay a long-term price worse than that for DDT.)

  8. Under the authority of the Executive Powers, I would have suspended the Jones Act, or Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and accepted help from the foreign governments that offered it on DAY ONE — Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

    The fact that Obama deferred his leadership role to British Petroleum is most egregious here:

    Four weeks after the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Obama administration saw no need to accept offers of state-of-the-art skimmers, miles of boom or technical assistance from nations around the globe with experience fighting oil spills.

    “We’ll let BP decide on what expertise they do need,” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters on May 19….


  9. Under the authority of the Executive Powers, I would have relaxed the oil-to-water ratios required for returning processed ocean water to the Gulf, thereby permitting the immediate deployment of the South Korean-built, Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship “A Whale” for oil-skimming in the Gulf. The Obama administration allowed it to languish tied up to the docks in Norfolk, Virginia for weeks.
  10. If I were president, I would never have limited access to the oil spill damage by the press or by photographers, except to the extent required for their safety. I would have valued our mutual stewardship of our natural resources above any concerns for my political reputation. I do not believe that the American public is a mindless herd of sheep whose perceptions need to be manipulated. I do believe that they are a resourceful and creative force that should be kept FULLY INFORMED and engaged in the solution to this truly earth-changing disaster.
  11. If I were president, I would never have used phrases like “boot on the neck” or “kick ass.” The empty rhetoric and political grandstanding characteristic of this administration does nothing to solve the problem and it does nothing to reassure the public that a responsible leader with a thoughtfully reasoned plan is in charge. It is the language of a guttersnipe, not a statesman.
  12. As for the other part of MaryAnne’s question, what “Obama should personally do about BP’s complete disregard for the safety of its workers,” the remedy, if any, is the province of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. The president can make clear to Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, and to David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, his deep personal concern about this matter and ask them for a study and special report with recommendations. But that is “locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.” It would, however, have serious value with respect to the remaining nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms in the Gulf.

And that’s just the first couple of days….


American DaughterThe Executive Orders

LENTAHow to remove oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico? (translated from the Russian)

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