Thursday, February 3, 2011

FIDLEY WATCH - Expertise

Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Contributing editor Hugh Ware (Other Shores, this issue, page 46) reports that at least one US Navy rear admiral believes in climate change. “We in the US Navy believe climate change is real. It’s going to have big impacts, especially in the Arctic, which is changing before our eyes,” says Rear Adm. David W. Titley, oceanographer and navigator of the US Navy.

For what it’s worth, the editor of Pacific Maritime Magazine, and its sister publication, Fishermen’s News, agrees. We also “believe” in climate change. Man’s participation in the process is still very much in question, and will be a subject of debate at least until the politics are removed from the issue and science can be applied. We feel the sun plays a fairly large role.

Although the issue is outside of their area of expertise, many in congress still “believe” in man-made climate change. These include 219 members of the House of Representatives, who perhaps also “believe” that man is making the sun shine hotter and the rain fall more (or less) and causing the polar ice to melt.

These people, mostly lawyers, have the power to make law in our country. It is our duty to elect the people we feel are best equipped for the job, but often we elect instead the representative who promises us the biggest piece of the pie. The results are predictable.

In 2006, when Dubai Ports World sought to purchase management contracts for some East Coast terminals, Congress got involved and demonstrated its vast ignorance of all things maritime. The unfounded outrage that followed finally convinced Dubai Ports World to take their money somewhere they were more appreciated.

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing up to 60,000 barrels per day in to the Gulf of Mexico, Congress again weighed in.

In early June, the Houston Chronicle (erroneously) reported, “The Jones Act, the maritime law that requires all goods be carried in US waters by US-flagged ships, has prevented Dutch ships with spill-fighting equipment from entering U.S. coastal areas.” Other media picked up the story and broadcast it nationwide.

In response to the concerns of many who believed that the Jones Act was somehow responsible, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, who had instructed the appropriate agencies to ensure any Jones Act waiver requests regarding the BP oil spill response receive accelerated processing, pointed out that none had been required for the 15 foreign-flagged vessels operating at the time in the Gulf of Mexico. Allen noted that a foreign flag vessel can conduct certain operations as part of the flotilla if it is an oil spill response vessel and meets the requirements of 46 USC § 55113.

Nevertheless, three days later, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R,TX), Senator George LeMieux (R, FL), and Senator John Cornyn (R,TX), unnecessarily but to great fanfare introduced legislation that would temporarily allow foreign marine vessels to assist with the oil cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Jones Act is currently preventing resources from being used in the monumental cleanup effort, and is hindering the ability of foreign vessels to assist Gulf communities in preventing oil from reaching their shores,” said Hutchison, erroneously. She wrongly continued, “The administration has failed to issue a waiver on the Jones Act, which is blockading foreign vessels from working with their American counterparts to remove the oil from the waters of the Gulf.”

Senator John McCain (R, AZ) chimed in: “The best course of action is to permanently repeal the Jones Act in order to boost the economy, saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort to repeal this unnecessary, antiquated legislation in order to spur job creation and promote free trade.”

There were many problems with the spill cleanup, but the Jones Act wasn’t one of them. While those familiar with the Jones Act already knew that, it was satisfying to see the non-partisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling confirm the fact. On January 11th, the commission released their report, “Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling”, prepared at the request of President Obama. The President had charged the Commission to determine the causes of the disaster, and to improve the country’s ability to respond to spills, and to recommend reforms to make offshore energy production safer.

The report states:
“News reports and politicians alleged that the federal government turned away foreign offers of assistance because of the Jones Act, a law preventing foreign vessels from participating in trade between US ports. While decisionmakers did decline to purchase some foreign equipment for operational reasons – for example, Dutch vessels that would have taken weeks to outfit and sail to the region, and a Taiwanese super-skimmer that was expensive and highly inefficient in the Gulf – they did not reject foreign ships because of Jones Act restrictions. These restrictions did not even come into play for the vast majority of vessels operating at the wellhead, because the Act does not block foreign vessels from loading and then unloading oil more than three miles off the coast. When the Act did apply, the National Incident Commander appears to have granted waivers and exemptions when requested.”

In the days since the report, Senators Hutchison, McCain, LeMieux and Cornyn have been uncharacteristically silent on the issue. Perhaps they have gone back to focusing on their area of expertise.

Chris Philips, Managing Editor