When You're Just Not Helping
As I type this, the public officials of a community in Florida named Destin are defying, under pain of arrest and jail, an order from the U.S. Coast Guard to not attempt to protect beaches and estuaries from the onslaught of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Let me repeat that: the Coast Guard threatened local public officials with jail for trying to save their beaches and their inland freshwater resources from the oil, simply because the Coast Guard had not approved the plan.
This foot-dragging has been compounded by a stunning threat to stop Destin, under color of law, from protecting the environment.
Okaloosa County isn’t taking oil spill orders any more.
County commissioners voted unanimously to give their emergency management team the power to take whatever action it deems necessary to prevent oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from entering Choctawhatchee Bay through the East Pass.
Lest we ignore the point, the U.S. Coast Guard is no longer an independent agency; it is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Defying the Coast Guard in this matter is defying the nation's umbrella anti-terrorism organ of government. It is defying the power of the federal government to regulate what happens on America's shores. It is defying separation of powers.
It is also right, because the Coast Guard is threatening jail for defiance of its orders in defense of no defense against the oil at all.
This is not a trivial step. These people really could go to jail. Now, in reality, one might expect that sanity would prevail and that the Obama administration would not allow itself to be put in the position of using federal law to halt oil prevention efforts before the nation and the world. Until proven otherwise, however, that is precisely the situation that presents itself.
According to this ABC news story, the Coast Guard halted oil collection ships after inspecting them and finding them to have insufficient numbers of life vests on board.
I'm all for life vests, but this is an emergency. Louisiana spent 24 hours pleading and yelling for action, which the White House finally heard, but the national "chain" of command allows all agencies concerned - the Coast Guard being just one - to have a veto over any anti-oil spill action, including Destin's frantic efforts. Thus, the "command" is unified on paper, but is crippled by disunity in reality.
Today's Gordian knot is composed of red tape, not rope. Does anyone have a sword?