Bending the Rules on the Gulf

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Lousiana governor Bobby Jindal is mad at the Coast Guard because they shut down some oil skimming barges while they confirmed that there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board. Doug Mataconis sympathizes:

I’m not against martime safety, of course, but it strikes me as more than a little absurd that the Coast Guard it worry about life vests and fire extinguishers while the Governor of Louisiana is worrying about stopping the oil from entering the Louisiana marshes. At the very least, it would seem reasonable that, in an emergency situation such as the one the Gulf Coast has been in since April 20th, the enforcement of rules like these could be modified so that they don’t interfere with actual productive work.

If there is a reason to fault the Federal response to the oil spill, I think it can be found in actions like this where the blind adherence to rules stands in the way of reasonable efforts to get the job done.

It’s pretty hard to take the other side of this argument. But I wonder. We are, after all, talking about barges that are sucking up oil, and the last time I checked oil was pretty damn flammable. Everyone wants the cleanup operation to proceed with breakneck speed, but that’s exactly when people get tired and sloppy. And I wonder what everyone would think of the Coast Guard’s ridiculous rules if they waived them and then some boat went up in a huge fireball because a spark caught somewhere and no one had a fire extinguisher handy? Do you think we’d all understand and give the Coast Guard a pass for not enforcing its own safety rules because this was, after all, an emergency? Or would there be a raging 24/7 media-fueled hysteria about yet another government agency that hasn’t learned the lesson that you can’t cut corners on obvious common-sense safety rules? Do I even need to ask?

Anyway, the boats were only idle for 24 hours. Maybe the Coast Guard screwed up by making them wait even that long, but it’s not quite the open and shut case Jindal thinks. Ditto for all the other ideas that local authorities have. Some of them are good and the feds should green light them. But you know what? I’ll bet a fair number are kind of stupid too, and the feds are right to put their resources elsewhere.

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