June 15, 2010
Gulf Spill: "Un"cooperative Federalism?Today's New York Times features the story Efforts to Repel Gulf Oil Spill Described as Chaotic.
The article documents the difficulties that private parties and various levels of government authorities have faced in coordinating control and cleanup efforts. From the article:
Closer to shore, the efforts to keep the oil away from land have not fared much better, despite a response effort involving thousands of boats, tens of thousands of workers and millions of feet of containment boom.
From the beginning, the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result, officials and experts say, the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively.
“The present system is not working,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said Thursday at a hearing in Washington devoted to assessing the spill and the response. Oil had just entered Florida waters, Senator Nelson said, adding that no one was notified at either the state or local level, a failure of communication that echoed Mr. Bonano’s story and countless others along the Gulf Coast.
“The information is not flowing,” Senator Nelson said. “The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess, with no command and control.” (emphasis added)
This should not be news. Similar complaints were leveled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Erin Ryan (William & Mary) gives a thorough outline of these problems and various responses in her article Federalism and the Tug of War Within: Seeking Checks and Balance in the Interjurisdictional Gray Area, 66 Md. L. Rev. 503, 518-36 (2007).
Are these problems of cooperative/shared/interactive federalism intractable? Or can we learn and improve from the Katrina and BP experiences before the next disaster, particularly before incidences that might have a lower profile but cause equal devastation to local residents and paralysis among state, local, and federal officials.