The 87 days of oil gushing from a broken BP wellhead 5,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico poured millions of gallons of crude into one of the richest food and mineral assets in the world, destroying household incomes, crippling towns, threatening important coastal estuaries, and leaving damage – economic and natural – so far defying precise calculation.
Mississippi, as with Hurricane Katrina, suffered extensively from the millions of gallons that flowed into the Gulf, about 26 percent of it remaining by the calculation of top scientists working on the response and recovery.
Gov. Haley Barbour, as with Katrina five years ago this month, has appointed a special commission to assess and recommend a long-term fix. It was the right thing to do, and it doubtless will produce good information. We hope the information generally is put to better use than the response to the Katrina commission. It proposed great recovery ideas, mostly ignored.
Barbour, named last week by the online publication Politico as the nation’s most powerful Republican politician, commands an unusually strong position in shaping what comes next – in the federal government, among his fellow Gulf Coast governors, and in moving Congress and even President Obama toward constructive actions that can help make response to the next Gulf disaster faster and better.
Adm. Thad Allen, the just-retired former Coast Guard commandant and commander of the response to the BP disaster, made timely comments Wednesday night in his interview with Charlie Rose on public television.
Allen said right off the bat that one of the oil problem areas remains the Mississippi Sound, the waters immediately off our state’s coast.
“We have oil up in the marshes around the Barataria Bay and other places in Louisiana, the Mississippi Sound, and I think we need to have a pretty strict way to monitor hydrocarbons in the water in the future and learn as much as we can because we don’t ever, ever want to have this happen again,” Allen told Rose.
Allen noted that his team, under the direction of the White House, is “about ready to convene the largest natural resource damage assessment in the history of this country. … How do we put a price tag on it. And how do we make whole the people of the Gulf?”
Allen described a process that makes sense but was not possible under existing constraints:
“If we learned one thing out of the spill it’s to have a way to bring the public in, have them participate being able to organize, be able to apply them in the best interest of the spill response,” which eventually proved productive.
Control the air space above the Gulf with a central command to maximize effective scientific measuring and minimize danger.
Find a way to create unity of effort, removing barriers created by “independent authorities, statutes that people are required to enforce, different capacities and capabilities in the different agencies. And it’s not easy to get all together and focus on one direction and create unity of effort. But that is a skill that we’ll always need when we have an incident of national significance on the order of magnitude of Katrina, this oil spill, or anything else. And I would like to think that growing up in the Coast Guard that – I use this term all the time, I’m not trying to be glib – but I think we’re bureaucratically multilingual.”
Allen’s final perspective is the most important for recovery: “I don’t think there ever is a mission accomplished with an oil spill. Nothing good ever happens when you put oil in the water. … What you do is you have a mitigation plan, you have a response plan, you deal with it, you assess the damages, and you keep working it and you keep working it. And I’m not prepared to say mission will be complete at any time soon, whether the well is capped or not. And as I said, the people in the Chandelier Islands, Mississippi Sound, Barataria Bay, there’s oil there. We still have to deal with it.”
Mississippi’s leaders should apply his advice and insight to the work ahead.
NEMS Daily Journal