On May 3rd, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners held a public meeting to vote on declaring a state of emergency over the Deep Horizon oil well disaster.
By the time the meeting was over certain things were clear. We have an environmental disaster of epic proportions. The BP representative had questions shielded from him by our Commissioners. There was no commitment of resources to Okaloosa by BP, but we were told we should trust them. There was no estimated cost to the County. There was no public discussion of the effects or duration of the state of emergency.
They might as well have had the meeting in private. It quickly became apparent the idea was to get in step with the Governor’s executive order 1099 (declaration of emergency) and not worry about details. No public participation was asked for before the vote, even though it was held before a crowd. It passed quickly and unanimously.
The representative for British Petroleum Corporation was a Mr. Clayton Cochran. He spoke just long enough to say he was given authority to allocate resources to Okaloosa County and would work with the Okaloosa Emergency Operation Center on the next steps. When I asked Mr. Cochran, in the open meeting but after the Board approved the Declaration, exactly what those resources were, our County Commission, curiously, did all the talking for him. Their answer was they didn’t know, but they did know BP already gave $25 million to the State of Florida.
I’d have preferred if Mr. Cochran answered that question. If there is one thing I know about a situation like this, the BP representative was not there to protect the interests of Okaloosa. He was there to mitigate damage for those who employ him.
It is not the role of government to shield a corporation. It is governments role to hold liable those who damage others property and bring them to account.
The County Board’s actions will have other consequences, to be sure. A quick glance at executive order 1099 shows one immediate effect to be anti-gouging price controls. Who decides what is a fair price or gouging will, of course, be the government.
Price controls do not work, and only lead to criminalizing the free market, rationing (think gas lines and per car gallon limits), smuggling and shortages.
I asked the Board if there were going to be restrictions on individuals protecting their property from the oil in the water, and Commissioner Harris said no. But if push came to shove and the County needed, for example, oil containment booms, he said the Counties need would take priority over individuals.
I wonder how Commissioner Harris plans to make that happen. I wonder if he believes he can break a contract between two parties and if that is lawful or constitutional.
Another thing not discussed before the state of emergency was passed was the cost. The County was planning to foot the bill for a lot of emergency equipment, possibly for a very long time. When I asked about this, the answer was they didn’t know, but they did know BP was going to pay for it all. Call me skeptical, but I would be wary of the Counties plan to pay first and then trust a promise from BP.
Government has always acted in a cavalier manner when it comes to spending other people’s money. An emergency is no exception, but it is you and me that have to pay. And this emergency could cost us a lot.
Finally, I asked when the state of emergency would be over. Again, the answer was they didn’t know. I suppose it’s over when the government says it is over.
Our County Commissioners didn’t do the people of Okaloosa any favors this day.
To add insult to injury, those assembled listened to a phone conference with Secretary Michael Sole of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection who assured us that the duration of this disaster would be short and that there was no serious health risk from the oil in the water.
Yeah, and I have an oil well platform I’d like to sell you.