Science and Politics — sand berms off LA coast

Progress on Louisiana Sand Berm

Image by lagohsep via Flickr

Once again in LA we see an example of the conflict between objective science and state level politics. Louisiana Builds Barriers Even as Oil Disperses, NYTimes, Oct. 22.

In late May, at the height of the spill, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard did authorize the berms as an oil-spill countermeasure and directed BP to pay for them. But since then, the Coast Guard and the unified command, charged with responding to the oil spill under federal law, have had virtually no oversight or involvement in the project.

Rather, the state is proceeding with the permission of the Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates offshore engineering projects yet has little oil-spill expertise.

But as the dredging and construction press on, opposition from federal agencies and environmental groups is growing.

Some conservation groups and scientists assert that the project has not only been ineffective but could also threaten wildlife. They warn that the intensive dredging associated with the berms has already killed at least a half-dozen endangered sea turtles and could kill many more.

They have also repeatedly raised concern that further dredging may squander limited sand resources needed for future coastal restoration projects.

Thanks to Bill Cumming for pointing this out.

Oil Spill Disaster Recovery – June 29 – Deja Vu all over again

Since both crisis response and consequence management for the BP Oil Spill Disaster are being handled under the National Contingency Plan (NCP), rather than under the under the Stafford Act and the Presidential Disaster Declaration process, the Coast Guard, EPA, and NOAA are the lead actors.  DHS/FEMA do not have a lead role, but do have a supporting role.

Now that we are in the recovery phases, neither the NCP nor the lead agencies have any experience, nor much regulatory guidance, in how to do consequence management. As a result, they are inventing the recovery process as they go along. Some of us have been wondering why the Administration has chosen not to involve FEMA, which does in fact have experience and guidelines for dealing with affected citizens, businesses, and municipalities.

One more manifestation of the problem of inexperience is how to deal with the convergence of volunteers wanting to help.  See the article titled Extended hands left idle in gulf recovery; gung-ho but untrained, volunteers hit a wall in helping mitigation oil spill. [Wash. Post, June 29.] Once again,  experienced disaster hands know a convergence of volunteers is an expected activity in the aftermath of a disaster.  They are not easy to manage, but there are techniques and precedents for doing so. (Similarly, one can expect a convergence of media and of researchers.)

In short — why are we not using the federal response and recovery frameworks now in place for a Presidential Disaster Declaration (used for post-Katrina recovery) and instead put agencies with
no experience in charge of recovery?