Jindal’s berms: Critical thinking and politics

One of the most vivid images of the Gulf oil spill is that of Governor Bobby Jindal walking the shoreline and lambasting the administration for not moving quickly to build sand berms to protect the shore.

He argued passionately that something had to be done and that the administration was failing.  What the administration did do was have a team of engineers and scientists evaluate the plan.  The result of their analysis was that the berms would be ineffective in stopping the oil from coming ashore.  The analysis and the recommendation not to spend resources on building berms did not diminish Jindal’s sound bite, inspiring appeals for them.

Before reading the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling draft report released yesterday*, I hadn’t doubted Jindal’s motives, only his ability to think critically.  It seemed that in spite of the overwhelming science to the contrary he just knew that piling up sand in front of the beaches would protect them.  To him it was just common sense.  He just knew.

He appeared to be succumbing to an all too prevalent process of making decisions based on emotion and not on facts. Unfortunately, he was effective at communicating his flawed position and was able to build public support by propagating what he labeled as just common sense.  It was a political and media coup for him and the administration finally acquiesced to the public outcry for building the berms even though they had a clear recommendation from the Army Corps of Engineers that they would not work.

The commission report unambiguously concluded that the berms were ineffective and a colossal waste of money especially in light of the fact that less than 1000 barrels of oil were recovered.  To put the expenditures on the berms in perspective the report noted the following:

BP payments to build the berms:
$220 million: Cost of building the berms to date
$140 million: additional commitments to the berm project
$360 million total berm cost

Other BP payments to date:
$581 million paid to the federal government
$65 million to Florida
$62 million to Alabama
$77 million to Mississippi
$293 million to Louisiana for non-berm recovery and restoration
$1.078 billion total non-berm related payments

The report notes the following. “The $220 million BP has spent on the berms to date, along with the additional $140 million BP has committed to the project, represents about one-third of the total amount BP has paid to the federal government and the states for oil response and removal in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The following chart shows the breakdown of payments to the federal government and Gulf states.  BP will have paid more for the berms than the total it paid to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida combined.

At first, this report seemed to support my original premise that the berms were a dumb idea and Jindal was simply making an emotional instead of rational decision about them.  I hadn’t really questioned his motives until I read the following in the report.

“In 2005, 2007, and 2008, the State of Louisiana submitted sixteen funding requests totaling $101 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for barrier island restoration projects (all of which were denied as ineligible)  The spill presented an opportunity for state and parish officials to facilitate construction of a large-scale, temporary oil spill response measure whose purpose might, they believed, “pivot” to permanent restoration of Louisiana’s barrier islands — with BP footing the bill.”

Jindal continues to defend building the berms and in spite of overwhelming data continues to proclaim they were a success.  If there is any success it is that Louisiana was able to circumvent FEMA funding of barrier island restorations by siphoning off oil spill money.

Many people will never read the  report but will  remember the image of Jindal walking the beach pleading for those berms and will remember him as their advocate against an aloof, uncaring administration.

Well played Mr. Jindal.  I see why you are viewed by many as a 2012 republican presidential nomination contender.

And where are the berms now As predicted, may are showing sever signs of erosion as evidenced in the photo below.

Heavy equipment is lost as a BP financed sand berm is reclaimed by the gulf.

* http://www.oilspillcommission.gov/sites/default/files/documents/The_Story_of_the_Louisiana_Berms_Project.pdf

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One thought on “Jindal’s berms: Critical thinking and politics

  1. Pingback: The perils of politicians rejecting expert advice: Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal | Confronting Mediocrity

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