The smell comes first. Residents in Mississippi and Louisiana are catching the first whiffs of disaster’s approach. The oil is on its way.
The sense of dread running down the central Gulf Coast grows heavier by the day. You can see it in the faces you meet, the voices you hear. Catastrophe is common in a hurricane-plagued region but this is different. This viscous invader carries far more irony than any mere storm.
The oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon has spawned pointing fingers and the target is predictable considering the political mood of the area. Conservative politics and lifestyles are a given here in Tea Party Central, Old South Division.
The local daily newspaper, the Press-Register has clarified local sentiment with its front-page editorial of Friday, April 30. In it, they waste no time affixing fault.
Already, the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina are being repeated.
The federal government is charging to the Gulf Coast to help try to keep massive amounts of oil from washing onto the coast and into the marshes of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana — but it’s more than a week late.
BP, the company that was operating the Deepwater Horizon rig when it exploded, wasn’t quick enough to recognize, let alone contain, the scope of the oil spill that now threatens catastrophic destruction of marsh and wetlands.
And, as the Press-Register is reporting in today’s paper, if federal officials had ordered burning of the oil sooner — before the wind switched from north to south — then the damage could have been lessened.
State government leaders in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana have moved quickly to plan their disaster responses, and grass-roots groups across the coast are mustering volunteers. But they’re acting individually.
Just as was the case after Hurricane Katrina, there seems to be no one in charge of the overall response effort.
So here’s what needs to happen, and right now: President Barack Obama needs to put someone in charge. One person, reporting directly to the president, needs to direct the preparations to contain and clean up the oil spill.
Nowhere does it mention the fact that BP has clouded things every step of the way, that their obfuscations stymied quicker action. No, in customary fashion, Big Business gets every benefit of doubt possible.
The editors ignore the oil giant’s circumvention of recommended precautions. They could have installed the valves that would have prevented this fiasco but they wanted to save half a million dollars so they cut corners and our throats in one move.
There is no discussion of the fact this is an unprecedented event with no model for action. What makes its comparison with Katrina most ridiculous is that we know Bush’s admin knew how to respond to hurricanes. It’s a certainty. Why? Because we saw it done the year previous when Florida was strafed with four storms and FEMA performed admirably.
It’s easy to see why the newspaper is doing this. The sentiment abounds in remarks from readers following the oil spill stories on the paper’s Website. Some are even honest enough to admit that they want to saddle the Obama administration with blame for this disaster simply because Bush caught grief over Hurricane Katrina. “Turnabout is fair play.” “This is Barry’s Katrina.” The Press-Register is merely doling out the red meat.
Much in the way they are looking for any way to pin this on the White House, going so far as to say that NOAA personnel discussing worst case scenarios constitutes federal knowledge and then equivocating that with Obama’s inaction.
I'll admit Katrina is being repeated in a way, mainly in the way local conservatives are turning it into political fodder, praising all agencies dominated by their right wing brethren.
“Drill, Baby, drill” rang from the throng of SUVs and giant pick-up trucks that clog the Gulf Coast roadways. Now all these small government disciples demand federal help, mad that “Big Government” wasn’t hovering all the while. The folks who previously despised intervention, who had been doing a damn fine job of poisoning the region with chemical plants, paper mills, nuclear dumps, steel production, they now want to scowl at Washington for lack of oversight.
People here are angry and scared. This area hasn’t always been the most prosperous or economically stable but when all else failed, one thought pulled them through: “At least we have the water.” Tourists came to the beaches and the bays. Deep-sea fishing was a healthy business. Shrimpers, oystermen and all types of fishers wrested a life from it. Even on a merely personal level, the repast, recreation and reflection available from the water raised the quality of life immeasurably. It is more than a trump card, it’s the root of the region’s identity.
Now it’s all shot to hell. If the worst projections play out, with hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude per day spewing into the Gulf for months, it will be cataclysmic. Not for a year or two as with the worst storms, but maybe for a generation or more.
That's a lot of irony to scrub away.