Paul Greenberg

As if Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf coast hadn't been hurt enough by a succession of disasters natural and man-made, the Obama administration has chosen to pile on by arbitrarily banning deep-water drilling for six months. At least.

What an exciting prospect: More unemployment, more idled capacity, more workers without work, more families on the dole, and, of course, less energy for an economy that, conventional Greenism to the contrary, must still depend on that remarkably efficient and convenient fuel called petroleum.

But it turns out there is still some law and even reason left in the chaotic aftermath of BP's disastrous explosion-cum-oil spill that's now going Gulf-wide. For here comes the judge. His name is the Hon. Martin Feldman and he's had the simple candor to call an arbitrary decision arbitrary.

Can you believe it -- a ruling by a federal court that takes reality into account? While recognizing that the Deepwater Horizon spill is "an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster," His Honor refused to condone piling another one on top of it via federal fiat.

Reason has long been the last resort of law. This judge has made it the first, much to the consternation of the administration's lawheads.

To quote the judge, "If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like the Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing."

Rather overbearing? There's no rather about it. The administration has responded to the oil spill by drawing a line in the water at 500 feet. Regardless of all the wells operating safely above -- or below -- that level. That isn't reason, it's ... well, arbitrary.

With one edict it put a total of 33 exploratory oil wells out of commission. And threatens to shut down a good part of the whole petroleum industry.

Washington's diktat brings to mind the doomsters' reaction after the Hindenburg burst into flames that fateful night in 1937 with horrific, and well-publicized, results. It was a time when manned flight was still far from routine -- and some said the disaster just showed that man has no business flying. It was just too dangerous. Like drilling for oil below 500 feet.

Judge Feldman also called the administration's decision "capricious." Maybe not. It seems a calculated enough decision -- calculated to appeal to the public's panic, and the general demand that Washington not just sit there but Do Something, preferably something dramatic. Even if it's the wrong thing. Even if it adds to the oil spill's already catastrophic impact on the economy and people of the Gulf states.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.