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A Big Government Disaster

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

On June 15, 2010, President Barack Obama made his first address to the nation from the oval office. Hearing his address, several things struck me.

First of all, Obama mentioned that when the oil spill occurred, he ordered scientists and the Energy Department to study how to repair the spill. True to his big government agenda, Obama wasted time on the study while more oil continued to pour into the Gulf region.

Secondly, Obama also said that we are running out of oil to drill. This is patently false. The Democrats in Congress have actually banned us from drilling for 85% of the oil along the coast of the continental United States. This does not even include all the oil in Alaska or in the oil shales all around our nation. The fact that so much oil is spilling into the Gulf on a daily basis, only demonstrates just how much oil is under the sea.

Rush Limbaugh

Third, Obama said that he would not tolerate “inaction.” Yet, inaction is precisely what we’ve seen for two months. Since the spill occurred, Obama and Congressional Democrats have consistently blasted the oil company, British Petroleum (BP), instead of acting to contain or stop the spill.

If we dig a little deeper into the facts surrounding the spill, we will find that more than just oil is rising to the surface. The facts concerning the failure of the Obama administration and his big government agenda have risen to the surface as well.

The Associated Press (AP) reported on Sunday, May 16, 2010, that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is the federal government agency responsible for inspecting oil rigs to ensure their safety, failed to enforce its own policies. MMS was also less than truthful in reporting its recent inspections of the oil rig where the spill occurred.

The AP reported that the “MMS officials said the last infraction aboard the rig, which blew up April 20, killing 11 and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, occurred in August 2003, not March 2007 as originally stated.” Apparently, MMS missed the inspection of the rig where the accident occurred and then tried to cover it up.

The article also showed that MMS has a poor record in enforcing the laws and rules put in place for safety purposes. The AP mentioned that: “The inspection gaps and poor recordkeeping are the latest in a series of questions raised about the agency's oversight of the offshore oil drilling industry.”

The AP continued: “Earlier AP investigations have shown that the doomed rig was allowed to operate without safety documentation required by MMS regulations for the exact disaster scenario that occurred; that the cutoff valve which failed has repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years since regulators weakened testing requirements; and that regulation is so lax that some key safety aspects on rigs are decided almost entirely by the companies doing the work.”

MMS was so derelict of its duties that Elizabeth Birnbaum, the head of MMS, recently resigned and Obama did not even know that she did. He was caught off guard when the media questioned him about it.

For years we have heard big government Democrats like Obama pride themselves on being the protectors of the people through heavy regulations. Yet, all the federal regulations and bureaucracy did not stop the oil spill. In fact, the federal government actually helped to cause the spill to occur by not enforcing its own standards and inspections, and then allowed that spill to explode into an environmental disaster by doing nothing to resolve the spill.

Obama himself could have lifted federal regulations, like the Jones Act, which would have allowed foreign ships to assist in the cleanup. He stubbornly refused to do so, crippling relief efforts in the Gulf region. What’s more, the Obama administration’s head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano, arrogantly stated that they have been on top of the spill from “day one.” If Obama and his administration have been on top of the spill since “day one,” then why has even the traditionally liberal publication, The New York Times, called the relief efforts “chaotic?”

During the oil spill, while BP and the people of the Gulf region were struggling to keep the spill from getting worse, Obama attended the Duke Blue Devils ceremony and the World Cup Soccer ceremony. He took two vacations totaling six days, went golfing for seven days, spent three days conducting several political fundraising events, spent another six days campaigning, attended four commemorations and four sports events. That’s not exactly a leader on top of things since “day one.”

Obama’s DHS waited nine days after the spill occurred before deeming it worthy of federal action. In contrast, GW Bush waited only three days to do the same with Hurricane Katrina. It also took more than a week for the federal government to conduct its first burn. These delays allowed more oil to wash ashore, which damaged and killed more shoreline habitats.

In spite of all the federal government failures, Obama and the Democrats are calling for increased regulations of the oil industry. How does this make any sense? If the federal government could not properly enforce its own current rules, what makes us believe that they will enforce a new set of rules, accompanied by another layer of bureaucratic red tape?

The federal government actually held back Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal, who tried several times to construct sand berms and barriers to protect his state’s coastline from the oil spill. For whatever reason, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused Jindal’s requests to build the sand berms and barriers. They claimed they wanted to conduct an environmental study first.

Once again, as big government theorized about the possible ways to address the spill, the spill grew out of control, all at the expense of the Gulf States, their beaches and their wildlife.

While this oil spill is certainly a tragedy of epic proportions, it seems that the federal government and the Obama administration have a lot more to answer for concerning the disaster. After all, it was MMS that approved BP’s oil response plan. If BP’s response plan has been less than effective, then we must ask why MMS approved it in the first place.

This is just another piece of evidence of the failure of big government.

Think about the 1994 "In-Situ Burn" plan. It was created by federal government agencies like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to respond to a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The plan called for the federal government to employ the use of fire booms to contain an oil spill. A fire boom is an inflatable, fire-resistant, and water-cooled device that contains oil spills and allows the oil to burn offshore, far away from habitat close to the shore.

Well, as it turns out, the federal government did not have a single fire boom in the area of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Leave it to a big federal government to create a plan and then fail to properly equip and employ that plan.

One fire boom can contain and allow for the burning of up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour. That’s about 75,000 gallons of oil an hour. Had several booms been available, the Gulf of Mexico spill could have been contained and greatly diminished in its ability to do harm, almost immediately.

What about the oil company, BP? Aren’t they just another corporate culprit in a long line of big oil companies that constantly harm the environment? Believe it or not, big oil companies have a strong motivation to fix their mistakes and clean up their messes. The profit motive works to ensure that companies like BP have a vested interest in preventing oil spills like this from happening, and then spend their money to fix them when they occur.

Let’s consider the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. Exxon spent $3.14 billion on cleanup and litigation. So Exxon spent 600 times more on clean up and litigation than the actual value of the oil itself. That is a huge investment even big government did not make.

Even more, oil companies have a far better track record when it comes to drilling versus spilling. From 1985 to 2001, U.S. offshore oil facilities produced seven billion barrels of oil with a spill rate of only .001 percent. That’s right, only .001 percent.

In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that 60 percent of the oil spills in US waters come from natural seepage of the sea floor. It is far more risky in the long run to not drill for oil as much of the oil will seep into the sea by natural causes.

Big oil companies spend billions of their profits cleaning up any man-made oil spills when they occur, and outperform big government in any clean up endeavors as the Gulf of Mexico spill has shown us. When all is said and done it will be BP that will be paying for the expensive cost of the clean up of the Gulf coast and any litigation that will follow.

Motivated by profit, a company like BP has everything to lose when an oil spill occurs.

Their reputation and future sales are on the line. Naturally, they must respond to any oil spill and clean up the mess. The free enterprise capitalist system works on our behalf to motivate big oil companies to do the right things. On the other hand, big government has little to lose as it can just demonize big oil or some other entity as it shifts blame and fails to live up to its responsibilities.

Furthermore, big government acts as if it’s accountable to no one. Big government passes legislation against the will of the people and just blames someone else when its programs are a disaster (think about the housing crisis and the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

Worse yet, big government has the power to force upon us any program it deems necessary and then make us pay for the program by taxing us at will.

Since Obama and the Democrats have taken power, we have seen the government takeover the banking industry, auto industry, health care industry and the student loan industry, all with strings attached. Just the health care industry alone represents 17% of our entire economy. Add this to the 15% of our economy, which was already under federal control, and you can see the power the federal government now wields.

Even a large company like BP does not have that kind of power.

Yes, big corporations are not perfect. That is for sure. Yet, as long as they are accountable for their actions by law and have the profit motive working to ensure they fix their mistakes, they will work to repair their reputations and their deficiencies. Just think about the drop in sales and the bad reputation that Toyota has endured since many of their cars were recalled.

On the other hand, the more power the government grabs, the less efficient and effective it becomes, as this current administration so blatantly has demonstrated.

As Thomas Jefferson said, "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have." I have never heard of a large corporation taking away my freedoms and liberties. The federal government on the other hand, has a less than stellar reputation in that category.

If there is one thing we can take away from the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, it is this: big government is not the answer. Rather, big government is often the problem. This axiom is fast becoming Barack Obama’s legacy.

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