Wednesday, September 14, 2005

WH DID take immediate action- but only to save the oil

I posted something about this article yesterday, ;However a very thoughtful comment to the original made me realize I'd missed a crucial and larger point hiding in this story.

 The Article comes from a small local paper called Hattiesburg American  and the facts by themselves are simple and outrageous.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast.

That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.

But as bad as this story is on the surface, it gets far worse when you consider its implications.  But before I get ahead of myself, lets get the facts straight so there can be no misunderstanding:

The White House itself took direct action to get those pipelines running at any cost immediately  on the heels of the Storm; and the order came from the VERY top (higher than W even) level of the White House:

Dan Jordan, manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association, said Vice President Dick Cheney's office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately.


Jordan dated the first call the night of Aug. 30 and the second call the morning of Aug. 31.

Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Mike Callahan said the U.S. Department of Energy called him on Aug. 31. Callahan said department officials said opening the fuel line was a national priority.
I considered it a presidential directive to get those pipelines operating," said Jim Compton, general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association ...


And those calls were empathic about the level of emergency the WH thought this represented, EVERYTHING else had to wait:

..."We were led to believe a national emergency was created when the pipelines were shut down," Compton said....

"I reluctantly agreed to pull half our transmission line crews off other projects and made getting the transmission lines to the Collins substations a priority," Compton said. ...

Compton said workers who were trying to restore substations that power two rural hospitals - worked instead on the Colonial Pipeline project.

And the, the work on the Pipelines could have created another crisis :

Callahan said the process of getting the pipelines flowing would be difficult and that there was a chance the voltage required to do so would knock out the system - including power to Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg. Wesley was the only hospital operating with full electric power in the Pine Belt in the days following Katrina.

"Our concern was that if Wesley went down, it would be a national crisis for Mississippi," Callahan said.

Compton, though, followed the White House's directive

And it was extremely dangerous work for the crews

Line foreman Matt Ready was in charge of one of the teams that worked to power the substations and the pipeline. .

"We had real safety issues because there were fires in the trees on the lines and broken power poles."
Everything was dangerous," he said.

Now when I diaried this yesterday, my primary emotion was outrage at what i felt were badly misplaced priorities, but then an extremely insightful comment by DKos user Viget Really focused attention on the deeper meaning of it all:

Why this (sadly) had to be done... (none / 1)

...and I'm not saying that if I were the guy in charge, that I'd necessarily make the same call, but here it is.

The mid-Atlantic states (MD,DC,VA)and the coastal southeast (NC,SC,GA,FL) don't really have any refineries, and therefore are absolutely dependent on distillates being shipped up the Colonial pipeline from refineries on the Gulf Coast and in Texas.  The weak link in the pipeline was in MS, where extensive storm damage left pumping stations without power, in essence trapping all that mogas and other distillates in the pipeline.

If Cheney didn't give the order to prioritize electrical grid repairs to the pipeline, there would have been a full-blown gasoline crisis in the Atlanta metro and DC metro areas (as it was, Atlanta area almost had one, and certainly had some crazy price-gouging going on, although I expect that was because of panic-induced buying, and the prices were being raised as a way to keep panicked buyers away and conserving what little supplies they had).

Does that justify leaving rural hospitals to rot with no power?  Not in my book, but I'm not surprised that the DC power class was primarily concerned about their own first, so there you go.

What will be interesting to see is if this move only delayed the gas crisis, as the pipeline supposedly only holds 20 days of distillates.  Since it was up and running at 100% as of Sep.3, we'll see what happens on the 23rd, when the loss of refinery capacity finally ripples in to the supply stream.

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

That's when I really got it. Viget made a good point. There was a  valid argument to be made that getting that pipeline running averted a severe fuel shortage up and down the East Coast that could have caused  chaos, disruptions of critical supplies  and possibly violence.  Keeping the Oil flowing might have meant delaying humanitarian services, but this is arguably (giving them the  benefit of all doubts) one of those hard calls that we rely on steel-willed clear-eyed leaders to make in a time of crisis.

   Okay so far, so good.  Crisis happens, competent grown ups swing into action immediately, on Tuesday night they are already on the case, solving problems, barking orders.  Even the vacationing President  wakes from his nap long enough on the next day to Order a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve  to stabilize refinery supplies disrupted by the storm.  

  But once the oil supply is safe, then what?  What did they do for an encore?  Did the Veep's office them get Brownie and Chertoff, and Blanco together on a Conference call and coordinate a similarly swift and decisive response to the humanitarian crisis?  Did They roll up their sleeves and start calling sherrifs, and fire chief all over the region like they called power copmany people?

Well, not exactly, or in point of fact, NO.

When you look at this Katrina Response Timeline and Compare the Swift decisive action the White House took on the oil Crisis as opposed to the humanitarian one it become devastatingly clear:

The Crisis in New Orleans was not a primarily a failure of Communication, preparation, coordination, or even resources.  It was, at it Core a failure of Will, and a failure of concern.  The things that the leaders of our government truly cared about, namely safeguarding the oil supply, were taken care of and rescued in a highly efficient manner.  The things they didn't care about, namely poor people, not so much:

1)Tuesday Night Aug 30th:

     a.    Oil Crisis: VP's Office personally

        calls  the power company to demand

        immediate action on the restoration of

        power to the pipeline, all other

         consequences be damned

      b. Human Crisis:

         i. Bush: Still on Vacation

         ii.FEMA:"Just made aware of the Levee  

            Breach", USS Bataan offshore awaiting

            orders, Pentagon says "plenty" of

            troops available

         iii.New Orleans: Desperate for Food and

             water, widespread Looting/Finding of

             supplies begins

2)Wednesday Morning August 31st:

      a. Oil Crisis:

        i. Second call from VP's Office, Follow

           up Call from the Secretary of energy.

           Power Company managers told "pipeline

           failure is a "National crisis" and

           given a "presidential directive, to

           stop work on repairing power to    

           hospitals and water systems, until the

           work is complete.  Power crews

           dispatched to work round the clock

           under extremely dangerous conditions

        ii.Bush: Orders Release of Strategic

           Petroleum reserve to ensure supply of

           oil to refineries

b Human Crisis:

     i.    Bush:  Finally back in Washington, he

        begins to organize task force.  Isn't

        available to speak with Gov. Blanco when

        she call the first time,  hours later she

        finally talks to him when she calls

        back.  Gives a speech on TV

     ii.FEMA:  Decisively orders 4000 ambulances

        to New Orleans, unfortunately, they Don't

        exist. Chertoff "extremely pleased" with

        Response, Brown "surprised" at size of


    iii. New Orleans:Food and Water gone at both

         the Superdome and convention center.

         Tens of Thousands trapped, at both

         sites surrounded by filth and receiving

         no aid.  Thousand more trapped in their

         homes by rising water, rescue efforts

         sporadic to non-existent

I could go on, but really what else is there to say?


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