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Sunday, July 25, 2010

The New PWA/WPA/CCC

Call it what you choose, our elected officials in Washington have before them the opportunity to create a legacy to rival FDR's.  In their 'Where Oysters Grew on Trees' article in the July 24, 2010, issue of the New York Times online, Rowan Jacobsen and Michael Beck describe how the Gulf of Mexico's shoreline has been considered for repair even since before Hurricane Katrina.  Now, with the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster ruining what's left of what we've already laid virtually bare, a cleanup is necessary to restore the Gulf waters to their pre-spill condition.  I believe that we have in our capacity to restore the entire Gulf shoreline from the Mexican border to the Florida Straits using money from BP, stimulus funds, private groups like the Nature Conservancy and others.  What it will take in money will be dwarfed in comparison to the political will that would be necessary to undertake and complete such a mammoth project.  It would be a project of such magnitude that it would necessarily outweigh public opinion that might form against it in the short term.  It must be done for our children, for the animals that call the Gulf home, for the fisheries that begin their cycles in the Gulf...for everyone.
The largest man-made ecological disaster in history must be met with the largest public works program in history.  There really is no other way.  The man or woman who leads that recovery should go down in history as a global hero.  We are currently mired in 2 wars; Afghanistan, a legitimate war, and Iraq, one questionable at best.  As we retire those troops to home by means of force reduction, let's consider how many will be discharged from active duty - a full time job - and will hit the unemployment rolls .  Why not offer them positions with the Gulf Restoration Force?  In our military we have women and men accustomed to the rigors of relentless combat operations.  The act of offering them employment on a priority basis would do several things for them, and for the greater good.  I list below a few of my ideas.
First, it would give returning combat veterans the chance to reintegrate into society while keeping mind and body occupied and utilizing their prime leadership and motivational skills.  It's well documented how many soldiers returning from combat operations have difficulty readjusting.  It's fairly certain that the army of Gulf Restorers would need to be billeted near the Gulf, so why not use FEMA housing that's already paid for, which would allow many of the veterans to remain close to their comrades and to slowly spin out the post-traumatic shock that many understandably experience.  It would even be proper to have on-site counselors in those areas with a high concentration of veterans to help them through the PTSD and with their return to society-at-large.
Second, with the return of high numbers of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of unemployed will skyrocket, certainly not a situation we need at a time when we're only beginning to emerge from the Great Recession.  Why not authorize funds to keep as many of those vets employed as possible?  Money now used for the 2 wars could be used in our own 'Gulf War'.  It's a win-win for everyone:  Politicians of all stripes who support the plan could point to how they supported a public project that not only restored the ecosystem of the entire Gulf of Mexico, but how they also prevented a spike in unemployment that might very well have tipped the US into a double-dip recession.  Beyond just veterans, the Restoration will also need workers of all kinds from across the country; engineers, heavy equipment operators, barge pilots, manual laborers, managers, supervisors, facilities management for the housing areas, food services personnel and support, fuels technicians, health care workers, and on and on.  Pretty much the same people we now have in uniform, but with a lot more added to that list.
Third, we owe it to the following generations because it's we who made the mess.  We can blame BP all day long for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but there was already a disaster up and down the Gulf coast in lost wetlands, lost habitat and lost fisheries, much of it resulting from our need and greed, oil and seafood.  If we have to be in those areas to fix them because of the spill, why not go ahead and fix them right, return them to their fully productive state as Jacobsen and Beck encourage.  Politicians are fond of pointing fingers and holding others' feet to the fire, but perhaps its time to see if they can pass the same test themselves by doing what has to be done and looking towards the long goal rather than just the next election.  Maybe they could even work as part of a bipartisan effort between The Party of No and The Party of Spend Spend Spend.   Imagine a plan so big that people from the Green Party to the Republicans, conservatives to liberals, Progressives to Libertarians all work side-by-side for the greater good.  In doing so, they might just find that they have more common ground than they thought.  It could even lead to politicians backing down from their current Defcon 1 positions towards each other and working together for the sake of the nation and not for their own political ends.
Fourth, it's just the right thing to do.  We all know it.  We know the task of Restoration will be enormous.  It seems like a daunting challenge, but like any other emergency, it calls for triage.  We'll need to identify the highest priority areas and those are likely to be the areas affected by the oil disaster.  Next, we'll need to marshal our Restoration Forces to strike those areas hit hardest.  We're lucky to have our Field Marshall already there, already  familiar with the situation, and already working on solutions:  Admiral Thad Allen, USCG (Ret.)...if he would stay on for a while.  Then we'll need to examine what worked and what didn't, and move to the next area.  I believe that one approach might be to find the hardest hit areas, clean them of oil and restore them first, then break out into specialized forces to move east with one team and west with the other until the entire area is clean.
Beyond being our current leaders' legacy, it could be the enduring legacy of multilateral cooperation.  Coming together in our nation's time of need to fix the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States would show that We The People can put aside our partisan beliefs and work together to solve this problem.  The question is, do our leaders in politics have the political will - or the moral courage - to realize that if we do not fix this problem, we have lost within ourselves one of the very things that make us American:  Courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

25 July 2010