Isaac response turns political
Washington — It certainly didn’t take long for Hurricane Isaac to start being politicized.
Sure, the storm tinkered with the schedule of the Republican National Convention in Florida and some on the left criticized the partisan celebration during a time of flooding and destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.
But then the politicking quickly moved into debates about gas prices and oil-and-gas drilling.
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, started criticizing President Barack Obama again on Tuesday afternoon before Isaac could even make landfall and render thousands of people temporarily homeless.
Hastings included a quick acknowledgement about the top concerns being for the safety of the Gulf Coast residents, he then went into a prolonged criticism of the president’s offshore drilling policies with most of the oil rigs in the Gulf temporarily evacuated.
“However, it must be noted that every time a hurricane threatens the Gulf of Mexico our energy security is also put at risk,” Hastings stated. “Under President Obama’s plan, all of our eggs are in one basket.
If anything interrupts production in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans immediately face higher prices at the pump. This is exactly why Republicans support expanding and diversifying U.S. energy production.”
While Obama has recently authorized more offshore Gulf drilling and new oil production off of Alaska’s coast, Hastings and many others want offshore drilling all along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts off of California, Virginia and more.
As Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
But the key back-and-forth for Louisiana has been between Gov. Bobby Jindal and Obama, who is planning to visit the state on Monday for the first time since Isaac.
Shortly after Jindal requested a pre-landfall emergency declaration for Louisiana in advance of Isaac, Obama approved a declaration. Less than two hours after Jindal announced late Wednesday evening he was seeking an “expedited major disaster” declaration for the state, Obama approved a declaration for 35 parishes, including East Baton Rouge Parish.
The difference of opinion though is that Jindal has been seeking full 100 percent cost coverage from the federal government, including on the state’s preparation costs.
Instead, Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have approved the declarations through the standardized cost-sharing basis of a 75 percent to 25 percent federal and state split, respectively.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has maintained that additional requests to waive state cost shares would be reviewed after the storm under normal protocol. Such was also the process for Hurricane Gustav in 2008 under President George W. Bush.
Jindal did not criticize Bush before and during Gustav, but Louisiana did end up receiving additional support afterward. So why is Jindal being more critical this time of the president, who just so happens to be from the opposite political party and up for re-election in November?
“We’ve learned from past experience that you have to push the federal bureaucracy,” Jindal said. “We make no apologies for fighting for the people of Louisiana regardless of who is president.”
In his “major disaster” request, Jindal cited the state’s disaster struggles dating back to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008 and the 2010 BP oil disaster.
“All of these successive incidents have depleted the State and local governments’ ability to respond to a strengthening hurricane rapidly approaching,” Jindal wrote.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., started out complimenting the early FEMA response efforts, but a day later he joined Jindal in asking for full federal financial support.
While 100 percent funding is rare, it is possible.
The full percentage was authorized after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and through congressional action after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
But general federal protocol and policy dictate that damage assessments are done to compare the harm done relative to the population affected, which can then trigger the federal share to grow to 90 percent.
In that same vein, Democratic Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has largely praised the federal response thus far.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.