Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Cheney administration

This almost got titled Priorities, yet another in a long series of examples of poor priority setting. But the problem isn't priority setting, it's who sets those priorities. According to the Hattiesburg American (via TPM):
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina roared through South Mississippi knocking out electricity and communication systems, the White House ordered power restored to a pipeline that sends fuel to the Northeast.

That order - to restart two power substations in Collins that serve Colonial Pipeline Co. - delayed efforts by at least 24 hours to restore power to two rural hospitals and a number of water systems in the Pine Belt.

"I considered it a presidential directive to get those pipelines operating," said Jim Compton, general manager of the South Mississippi Electric Power Association - which distributes power that rural electric cooperatives sell to consumers and businesses.

"I reluctantly agreed to pull half our transmission line crews off other projects and made getting the transmission lines to the Collins substations a priority," Compton said. "Our people were told to work until it was done.

"They did it in 16 hours, and I consider the effort unprecedented."

Dan Jordan, manager of Southern Pines Electric Power Association, said Vice President Dick Cheney's office called and left voice mails twice shortly after the storm struck, saying the Collins substations needed power restored immediately.

Jordan dated the first call the night of Aug. 30 and the second call the morning of Aug. 31. Southern Pines supplies electricity to the substation that powers the Colonial pipeline.
Landfall was the morning of August 29.

Move past the irony that, after years of lefty jokes about the Cheney administration (cf. Billmon), a directive from the office of the Vice President counts so easily as a presidential directive. That's funny, but not that funny.

Move past the callous disregard for human life involved in ordering crews to let hospitals and water treatment facilities to sit in the dark (dirty water is the leading cause of death in a setting like No Man's Land). That's despicable, but perhaps we shouldn't expect anything less.

Remember though, it was Dick Cheney, probably without consulting the Commander in Chief, who ordered fighters to shoot down an American jetliner full of American citizens. Again, not necessarily a wrong decision, but a colossal usurpation of presidential authority in a crisis.

Shortly after a FEMA official said:

I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a bowl. That's just not happening.
Dick Cheney was on the phone to make sure the oil was flowing like water, a decision that may have cost lives or caused the dysentery in a shelter in Mississippi. I'm not enough of a geographer to know where that shelter got its water from.

One presumes that the electric company had a plan for this situation. Power goes out: send crews to restore power to hospitals first, then water supply, then this, that and the other. Cheney turned that on its nose at a time when life and limb were the major priorities, switching property to a higher priority than lives.

If that's a decision made on all the evidence, it's fine. If the president told Cheney to take the matter in hand until he got back from his guitar and birthday cake tour of the SouthWest, fine. But I suspect that Cheney got a call from an energy industry pal, and made a call without considering the whole picture.

And that's unacceptable. Federal and local planning should have considered the possibility of this damage, and should have planned ahead what the priorities would be. There shouldn't have been last minute string-pulling on behalf of monied interests.

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