Soon after the Deepwater Horizon disaster began, with raw crude pumping out of the seabed into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst oil spill in American history, foreign nations began offering help with the clean up.
Especially notable was the Belgian firm DEME, which specializes in ocean-going clean-up work and which offered to bring the best equipment in the world for the operation to the Gulf. But it didn't happen because President Obama refused to waive the Jones Act, a protectionist law sought by the maritime unions to keep foreign-crewed vessels out of U.S. waters.
The Jones Act has a national emergency provision that allows the president to waive its requirement of American crews, as President George W. Bush did during the Hurricane Katrina disaster that nearly destroyed New Orleans. But Obama resolutely refused last year to waive the Jones Act in order to allow the DEME and other equipment to be employed in the Deepwater Horizon cleanup. An operation that could have been completed in four months instead stretched into nearly a year.
But this week we have learned that under certain well-defined conditions Obama is more than willing to set aside his reservations about waiving the Jones Act. And those conditions have mainly to do with the fact Obama wants to be re-elected in 2012.
Among the biggest obstacles to Obama's re-election effort is the prospect that gas will still be around $4 a gallon next year. So what does Obama do? Not only does he authorize using 60 million gallons of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, he waives the Jones Act to allow foreign crewed ships to deliver the SPR oil to U.S. ports.
That decision left Jim Adam, president and CEO of the Offshore Marine Service Association, bewildered and angry. He issued this statement:
“It is mind-boggling that the president would jeopardize national security by letting foreign owned and operated ships transport oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to and from American ports. (Ironically, the President had earlier cited Libyan unrest as a national security emergency in order to tap those reserves.)
“For more than a year, the Obama Administration has had a stranglehold on energy development in the Gulf of Mexico, which has put tens of thousands of Americans out of work.
“The administration talks incessantly about the importance of safety and environmental compliance by industry, but when those regulations stand in the way of the President’s agenda, he doesn’t hesitate to do the opposite.
“Foreign-flagged vessels do not have to comply with U.S. safety and environmental standards. They do not pay U.S. taxes. And most certain, they do not employ U.S. workers.”
Obviously, Adams simply fails to understand the fact that millions of barrels of raw crude was gushing into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico was not nearly enough of a national emergency to justify waiving the Jones Act compared to the extreme urgency of getting those gas prices down so voters won't take it out on Obama at polls in November 2012.
Now there's a real national emergency!
For more from Adams, go here. And a hearty Friday morning HT to Dan Kish, senior vice president of the Institute for Energy Research, for pointing out this latest fascinating insight into Obama's thinking on energy issues.