The state supported the suit against the moratorium that was brought by three oilfield supply firms, and Gov. Bobby Jindal sat with the company heads when a three-judge panel denied the government's request to restore the ban. The governor was subdued in his comments afterwards, for he probably knew what was coming next.
In response, this week the U.S. Interior Department replaced that moratorium with a new one that addresses the judge's initial ruling. Even if the new stop order is challenged in court, the feds, in their massive passive aggressive way, can keep rigs idle for as long as anyone wants to fight them.
While the companies had every right to challenge the drilling stoppage, state support of the suit only raised the stakes for and hardened the position of the Obama administration. What started as a federal-state partnership in response to the disaster has turned into more of an adversarial relationship, and Louisiana is destined for the short end.
It doesn't seem to help that federal-state flash points have gone beyond the challenge to the moratorium. Outraged frustration has been the tone of Jindal's criticism of other federal action or inaction.
"Gov. Jindal to Feds . . . Lead Or Get Out of the Way" read the headline of his press release responding to the Corps of Engineers' rejection of a proposal to build rock barriers to block oil from two passes to Barataria Bay.
The Corps district commander's objections weren't just so much red tape, as Jindal has charged. Col. Alvin Lee relied on detailed scientific analysis that warned of increased land ersosion caused by constricted water flows and possible damage to already exposed pipelines. The comments came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal scientists--the latter group the governor listens to when it suits his purpose.
Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis Deberry contrasted the governor's relying on the scientists who criticized the drilling moratorium to his ignoring scientists' concerns about the sand berms and rock dikes.
Jindal's statement failed to acknowledge science played a role in the Corps' decision on rock barriers, stating, "Only a government bureaucrat would say rocks are more harmful to our water than oil."
If Col. Lee were into slogans as much as the governor, he might respond, "Better to have some oil in the marsh than no marsh at all."
The colonel doesn't seem to take the governor's rhetoric personally, for he has not shot down all of Jindal's earth-moving proposals. Over the objections of scientists, the Corps approved the sand berm construction, despite a temporary shutdown over miscommunication about from where the subsurface sand could be dredged without causing more erosion. The governor expressed his outrage, then had the dredge moved further out from the islands, and the operation proceeds.
It is appropriate for the governor to call out federal officials for failing to coordinate resources or to follow through on what they agreed to do. But to slam their policy decisions as so much bureaucratic hash ultimately does little good for the coast or its people.
Jindal's amped-up pronouncements play well to a frustrated and angry public, particularly those already ill-disposed toward the Obama administration--in state and beyond. Yet rhetorically shaking one's fist at the feds achieves as much as doing the same to the oily sea. It's past time for the governor to speak softly and put away his little stick, for that's about all he's got in this fight.