Who Is to Blame for the Gulf Coast Oil Leak?

A severed oil pipe continued to leak oil on May 1st, endangering the ecosystem along the coast. This oil leak could turn out to be one of the worst incidences of marine pollution in American history. Some critics have compared it to Hurricane Katrina, accusing the present administration as well as the previous administration of being incompetent in the area of disaster relief, but a number of high-level government officials have denied that the government is incompetent.

Those referring to the oil leak as “the new Katrina” are not so easily swayed. They point out that the oil rig caught fire in an explosion on April 20th, that underwater pipes began leaking oil on April 24th and that the United States government did not get involved in containment efforts until April 29th. Of course, the White House counters such accusations by saying that the present situation is not comparable to Hurricane Katrina. Moreover, says the Obama administration, most of the criticism is coming from Republicans who wish to give the disaster a partisan tinge. However, over the days that passed between the initial explosion and governmental rescue efforts, the public has become increasingly skeptical. On April 20th, when the platform caught fire, the U.S. Coast Guard claimed that conditions were stable. On April 22nd, the rig sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was little concern from the White House, which claimed that this was “nothing out of the ordinary”1. By April 26th, it said that the Gulf of Mexico was “safe.” If oil did escape into the gulf, it would be taken care of “in due time.” All of this demonstrates that the government bodies responsible for disaster relief are impractically slow.

Reports dated Aug. 28th, 2005, presaged that Hurricane Katrina would attack America with unprecedented severity the next day, and yet the White House remained apathetic. Senator Lieberman’s sigh of disbelief represented the sentiments of a large portion of the people. Not only did predictions of the Katrina disaster appear in the reports from Aug. 28th, but they had also previously showed up in other findings uncovered by investigators.

Under immense pressure to point fingers after the fact, an investigative committee churned out a couple of names. For example, not long after leaving office, former President Bush complained that he had been made a scapegoat. But the facts rendered the investigative committee useless. This was because America was fully devoted to implementing its unilateral counter-terrorism policies. It has been said that “the delay in rescue efforts was due to the Bush administration’s over-devotion to counterterrorism; had reports warned that terrorists were planning to bomb the 17th Street levee in New Orleans, they would have been all over it”2. This criticism is truly a needle to the heart. In the war on terror, the Bush administration spared no efforts. Faced with souring public opinion toward the American government’s approach towards disaster relief and unemployment, Bush once said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” Another reading of this statement is that America will continue down the path of the Katrina response until everything is in complete disarray. Five years later, it appears that the Gulf of Mexico oil leak is a new Hurricane Katrina and that the fear mongering perpetuated in some American political circles is more than just rhetoric.

What people cannot forget is that not only had President Bush managed to provide a theoretical basis for government telephone monitoring policies to the Republican core in the House of Representatives, but he also pushed the legislature into letting the Department of Homeland Security absorb the Federal Emergency Management Agency, prioritizing security leaks over leaks in levees. It is obvious that in the name of counterterrorism the White House was eager to overturn the law. In this atmosphere, scrutiny over Katrina of course did nothing to weaken the White House’s resolve. If the warning reports and $1.4 billion in misappropriated rescue funds could not wake up the White House, then it is safe to say that when it came to U.S. policy, counterterrorism efforts trumped all else.

Admittedly, America has now entered the era of Obama, and Obama’s governing style is clearly different from that of President Bush. After learning of the oil leak at the end of April, Obama ordered approximately 1900 rescue personnel and 300 search-and-rescue vessels to operate in five critical areas for the sake of ecological protection along the fragile coastline. He additionally ordered a thorough review from domestic officials with a report to be submitted within 30 days. During his personal visit to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico on the May 2nd, he noted that it might be an unprecedented catastrophe and that the government was doing everything humanly possible to stop this enormous disaster. But to grasp the true cause of the problem, keep reading.

The truth is that the slow response rate of U.S. government departments to disasters reflects systematic problems more than human error. Everyone knows that in America, every government action must pass through Congress, and even urgent mobilization needs to be debated by the legislature. On the surface this appears to be democracy, but in practice it just means going in circles. Major accidents demand immediate response; otherwise they become disasters. This is what happened five years ago with Hurricane Katrina, and now it appears to be happening all over again with the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. But because of the American mindset, no one is looking for fault in the system, and so this year’s oil leak may be destined to vividly recreate the circumstances following Hurricane Katrina. Only time will tell.

1 The quote was actually made by BP executives.

2 The quote could not be verified.

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