Agitprop Alert: The Jones Act and the Oil Spill

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The agitprop: "Why is Obama letting his cozy relationship with labor unions keep the Dutch from sending oil skimmers to the Gulf? You know that he hasn't waived the Jones Act. During Katrina, President Bush waived the act immediately."

What it means: The Dutch know how to cap oil spills, but Obama refuses to let them help because organized labor would be mad at him. The law prohibiting foreign ships from operating off American soil can be waived, but Obama refuses to do so because he's in thrall to the labor unions.

The media: The assertion has been debunked yet is still alive, ubiquitous on Fox News and GOP radio and present in an exchange on Meet the Press this weekend. : Not a single government that has offered its assets for free has been refused by the U.S. ... The government, on Obama's orders, is moving to quickly streamline the complicated procedures for waiving the Jones Act, which only applies to ships within three miles off the coast. The Coast Guard says that no one has asked them to waive the Jones Act yet. ... Most of the containment and assistance offers wouldn't apply, because ships would be well outside the three-mile threshold, or because they fall into a category of ships with a specific purpose, like oil skimmers. They're already exempt.

So where are the Dutch ships, the Norwegian ships, the Belgian ships? For one thing, we're using Norweigian skimmers. The Dutch have experience with much smaller spills, and their expertise isn't as pertinent. For another, Dutch engineers ARE consulting with the U.S. government. Finally, it's worth noting that many foreign offers of help have been conditional -- that is: "We'll sell you these supplies at this cost." Mexico has offered assistance for free, and the U.S is using it. 15 foreign countries have signed reciprocity agreements with the U.S. and are helping with the clean-up effort.

NB: the Katrina waiver of the Jones Act was necessary to stabilize the amount of oil entering the U.S.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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