President Barack Obama is down in Louisiana today, where he toured an oil-covered beach and got a briefing from the Coast Guard on the response effort. But he was met there by local environmental groups that believe the federal government needs to take control of the clean-up, rather than letting BP direct it.
I talked with Jonathan Henderson, an organizer with the Gulf Restoration Network, by cell phone as he stood waiting for Obama's arrival, holding a sign that read "Clean up the Gulf." He says what he's seen of BP's response on the shoreline is "appalling." "They're basically doing window dressing," he said. "If they're doing everything they can, we're in deep, deep trouble."
Henderson says there's not enough man power deployed. There's not enough boom protecting the wetlands, and even where there is, it's not actually stopping the oil; the slick just washes over the booms. Rather than letting BP send its contractors out, they should be writing checks to the federal government so it can send its own response teams, he said.
The Gulf Restoration Network and other local conservation, sportsmen, and Native American groups on Friday called on Obama to federalize the clean-up. Those efforts, the groups said, should be controlled by the government alone – not, as Obama described it yesterday, by BP with the oversight of the federal responders. The groups also called on the government to make all the data related to the spill publicly available, rather than relying on BP to do it, and for an immediate stop of the use of dispersants "unless and until federal and state natural resource scientists agree on their safety for people, wildlife and habitat." The groups also argue that a military commander should replace the Coast Guard in heading up the federal response, as ocurred after Hurricane Katrina.
National groups are also calling on the government to take over. "The government needs to assert itself much more forcefully in this response," said Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation. NWF staffers in the Gulf this week found that BP has been grossly underestimating the amount of impacted wetlands. While the company says 30 acres are affected, a fly-over indicated that it's more like 3,000 acres.