The Truth About The Jones Act And The Oil Spill: The Right Gets One Wrong

Marc Ambinder does a good job of debunking the idea that the Obama Administration’s failure to waive the Jones Act has impeded the cleanup effort in the Gulf Of Mexico:

The truth: 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.

Good to know.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Environment, Oil Spill, Politicians, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    Who was it, James?, who told me that foreign ships operating do not let Obama off the hook because the spill is so darn big!

    I think the number at that point was 15 ships, out of a vast number that had been offered. That’s a pretty token gesture. – jhj

  2. john personna says:

    BTW, I would love to comment on the “3rd rail” post.

  3. Go ahead and comment there, for some reason comments got turned off accidentally.

  4. Franklin says:

    Interesting clarification. If true, somebody’s been lying to us.

    Agreed on comments for the “3rd rail” post. Boehner’s showing a little backbone for once.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    The liberal press in New Orleans disagrees:

    “Vial of Ecoceane, the French oil spill response company, said the Jones Act and other difficulties getting through to BP prevented his company from putting boats to work sooner. He has boats that could work offshore, but also smaller models that would be best suited in shallower inland waters within the three-mile limit.”

    “We could have sent boats earlier, but we wanted to make sure that if we sent our boats, they could be used in the U.S., because of the Jones Act,” Vial said in an interview translated from French.”

  6. Herb says:

    The Times-PIcayune is the liberal press now, PD?

  7. PD Shaw says:

    ??? When I lived in New Orleans it was, but I was mainly wishing to point out that the red tape issues are not the conspiratorial creation of the Right, but are frequently reported by the local media.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    How did Vial circumvent the Jones Act?

    “In the end, he sold nine of the spill response boats to a Florida company last week, which made them American boats and circumvented the problems with the Jones Act.”

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, do you work for the Obama adminstration directly or indirectly? WTF Doug, what does it take for you to see this President is doing nothing about a situation that did not have to get to this point. There is oil on beaches that need not be there. There is oil on wet lands and not one environmental organization is screaming. I suggest you do a little research Doug. Check out when the administration knew there was a problem with this well. Check out the relationship between BP and Obama. When Obama asked, what am I supposed to do? Suck it up with the straw. He has surely had plenty of experience snorting through a straw. So the answer is yes if that is what it takes. Additionally, when Social Security is totally dead and there is no money left, the third rail BS will have lost its power. Then watch liberals try to blame Republicans for what happened. Just like the dems trying to pin the broken economy on Bush. Look to Frank and Dodd for answers. The problems began when democrats forced banks to make loans to people who could not pay them back.

  10. sam says:

    Bye the bye, recall our discussions from a bit ago about whether the fund would be under the control of the government, i.e., Feldman (the mediator) will still be working for the government. This story from the NY Times, For Gulf Victims, Mediator With Deep Pockets and Broad Power I think answers that question:

    Like his [Feldman’s] own pay, which he has not disclosed, the expenses of the experts he retains will be paid by BP.

    He won’t working for the government during his tenure as mediator.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    sam, that doesn’t answer any one of the half-dozen or so questions I asked.

    If you are suggesting that Feldman has been retained to supervise an escrow set up by BP with directions from BP and funding from BP, entirely independent of any government law or regulation, that might explain why about the only thing Feldman seems to be able to say is that he is independent of BP.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    In other words, Feldman doth protest too much.

    But one of the reasons I want to know where the “rule of law” is governing this fund is that I want to know if BP pulled one off on us.

  13. sam says:

    I don’t understand, PD. I thought the question was, will the fund be administered by the government? Doesn’t the fact that he’s being paid by BP answer that question with a “No”? As for the rest, I’m sorry but I having trouble following your sentence. I can’t imagine the fund being “independent of any government law or regulation,” but so? How would that lack of that kind of independence mean the fund was government-run? The Red Cross is not independent of federal law or regulation, but it’s not government-run.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    “I thought the question was, will the fund be administered by the government?”

    I think Doug’s question was by what authority is this fund created. Mine were more along the lines of what is the basis by which the fund would be administered, how would conflicts be resolved, what happens if there is a disagreement, how do we know that Feldman doesn’t pocket the money, etc. . . .

    “I’m sorry but I having trouble following your sentence. I can’t imagine the fund being “independent of any government law or regulation,” but so?”

    I thought that was your position, that the fund might be entirely voluntarily, and to be honest BP’s initial description of the fund seemed to suggest they they were appointing a mediator for their voluntary payments.

    BP could create an escrow fund voluntarily directing an agent to disburse funds according to BP’s own directions. The agent’s discretion would be confined by the terms of the escrow agreement. That makes it simply a matter of contract law, consideration given by some agreement not to sue for the amounts paid.

    Governement control over the terms of such an escrow has to depend upon some rule of law, either found in statute, rule or contract. Doug’s complaint was there is no authority in statute, I will add that that rulemaking is a lengthy process, and as to contract, that would assume some sort of settlement of BP’s liability.

  15. sam says:

    Well, would this allay your fears? BP voluntarily creates the fund (and I really don’t think the administration had to twist any arms much…PR, etc), and agrees that Feldman should be the mediator, and further agrees to abide by his decisions (as far as it can, a provisio available to claimants against BP). In the event that there is a disagreement, BP has agreed that a three-judge panel will settle the dispute.

    “Governement control over the terms of such an escrow has to depend upon some rule of law, either found in statute, rule or contract. Doug’s complaint was there is no authority in statute”

    Well, if we’ve disposed of the government control question, Doug’s complaint is otiose, right? If BP voluntarily agrees to the fund and its administration as described, what statutory authority is required?

  16. Hugh says:

    I don’t understand the point of this post.

    Are you saying that since some of the offers of foreign help cost money, that our government is unable to press for their adoption? Is that the same helpless government that ‘informed’ BP that it would set up a $20b fund?

    BTW, I guess our government after 70 days has figured out a way to accept the help:

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    70+ days and counting……..


    oh wait they waited to long and now it’s hurricane time, yay………and what do we get? Yet more blame, red tape and excuses.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    How, exactly, is the government supposed to stop the leak…

  19. sam says:

    “How, exactly, is the government supposed to stop the leak…”

    It could stuff GA and Zelsdorf in it…they’re so full of shit, taken together, they could plug Mt. Vesuvius.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***It could stuff GA and Zelsdorf in it…they’re so full of shit, taken together, they could plug Mt. Vesuvius.***

    lol, or maybe they could get a real long cord and lower the teleprompter into it?

    How, exactly, is the government supposed to stop the leak…Um ah um I was hoping some in the U.S. government knew, or maybe a scientist, or an engineer, or an inventor maybe Al Gore? If not try the privite sector, ******* daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…..

    ***and what do we get? Yet more blame, red tape and excuses.****

    Day 70++another one and counting…..

    So what does Obama do, comes to my jobless gang infested city to push communism as the leaders of this states(most of them communist) beg him overturn more mindless environmental regulations and regulations to come. to save hundreds of more jobs he is Destroying and sending and to other countries.

    Spread the wealth and the stupidity!!!!!!

  21. Mark Allen says:

    Mataconis, you’ve got you head so far up this Pres. not-Bush’s a.. you can’t think straight. 70 days to accept help that has been offered from the beginning and you find that acceptable!

  22. dutchmarbel says:

    The Netherlands as a country may have little experience with oil disasters, but the Dutch have plenty. We’ve been involved in most clean-ups and with very good results too.
    After the big tanker spills the EU started the European Maritime Safety Agency (located in Portugal, headed by a Dutchman). If you look at this EMSA report (.pdf from 2002, you see that with the spills the Dutch ships were much more effective. We invented ‘sweeping arm skimmers’ that process much more polluted water and can be used at sea when the weather plays up.

    Our government has a number of those in stock (Rotterdam is one of the, if not THE, biggest oil transporting harbours) and 6 of those were flown to the US where they could be put on American tankers. Because the Rigid Sweeping Arms haven’t been used by the Americans before, Dutch engineers are instructing them.

    There are problems though. In this (Dutch, sorry, interview the spokesperson says that the tankers have to be American and that means they can’t use the biggest tankers available.
    The communication between the coast guard, BP and TNT Marine is bad (“too many chiefs and not enough Indians”) and they also don’t want to listen to the Dutch expertise. So BP wants them to clean up close to the source, but the oil there is to thin ’cause of the heat, so the Dutch team wants to clean up away from the spill where the oil is thicker and it can be pumped up and seperated more easily and effectively.

    Another legal problem: We pump up the polluted water, get the oil out, and pump the seawater back so that there is more room in the tanks. But American regulations specify that they can’t do that because there still is some oil in the seawater (more than regulations allow).

    The team is really frustrated because so far they have only been able to clean up 5% (FIVE percent) of what they should be able to clear.