Gov. Bobby Jindal Standing in the sun, tieless, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana rattles off a list of statistics: this many feet of boom requested, this many feet of boom received, this many feet of boom sitting useless on the dock. This many miles of coastline affected by oil — with heavy oil seen here, here and here. And, at every occasion, the sum of the collected data: “This spill,” Mr. Jindal says, “fundamentally threatens our way of life.”
The oil slick, like Hurricane Katrina before it, is a big, impending disaster swirling in from the Gulf of Mexico, requiring a response effort involving all levels of government.
The flawed response to the hurricane badly damaged the political fortunes of both President George W. Bush, a Republican, and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat, helping pave the wave for younger, fresh faces like Barack Obama and Mr. Jindal.
Mr. Jindal, a Republican with national ambition, is not going to leave room for anyone to say that he was not vigorously engaged, did not appreciate the threat or did not know the facts — every single fact — on the ground. Almost daily he tours the coast by helicopter or boat, then returns to land and holds a news conference, surrounded by angry mayors and parish officials who take turns describing the inadequacy of the response effort. He has asked the Louisiana National Guard and state wildlife and fisheries agents to monitor the location of the oil, which is then reported to the public, and to keep an eye out for response supplies sitting unused. Mr. Jindal stands alongside administration officials when they visit and thanks them for being on the scene, but from early in the crisis he has criticized the authorities for not responding with urgency to the state’s needs.
The primary cudgel has become a proposal to dredge sand and erect artificial barrier islands to keep oil offshore, a plan that has its detractors but has become an article of faith among state officials and local parish leaders.
The persistent hammering has worked, to a degree. Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, the incident commander, said on Thursday that he was reorganizing officers on the ground to address complaints that the response effort had been disjointed and slow. And he has given approval to erect one sand barrier out of the six permitted by the Army Corps of Engineers. State officials want 24. Mr. Jindal did not let up.
“Had we been given approval earlier, we could have built nearly 10 miles of barriers six feet high already,” he told reporters in Port Fourchon, La.
Mr. Jindal is trying to strike a tricky balance, one he has been negotiating in trying to manage the state’s recovery from Katrina: a vocal and frequent critic of the federal government’s size and cost, he is criticizing the government for not being authoritative enough. A message of state-driven action and self-determination, however, is a popular one here.
Last weekend, officials from Jefferson Parish and the mayor of Grand Isle, La., declared they were commandeering 40 fishing boats that were signed up to work on the cleanup but were sitting idle as oil seeped into the bays. BP eventually put them to work.
Asked by a reporter what he would have done if the mayor had been arrested for such a move, Mr. Jindal sounded like the kind of populist warrior that Louisiana has been particularly fertile in producing.
“I told the mayor yesterday,” Mr. Jindal said, “if I had the power, I’d pardon him.”