Barbour to Congress: States should lead disaster response

Governor Haley Barbour told Congress the federal government's role is to assist during a disaster and to not run the show.

On Thursday morning, the governor testified before a United States House Committee about the response and impact of last year's Gulf oil spill. He told national leaders that when disaster strikes, it's the individual states that should have the ultimate say so.

June 2011 is very different from June 2010 when tourists on Mississippi beaches were greeted by workers picking up tar balls. Governor Barbour told Congress the Gulf states should have been orchestrating their own oil cleanups, not under the authority of the Coast Guard.

"We're not mad at anybody about it, but it didn't work well when they tried to assume command of National Guard," said Gov. Barbour. "I should say, President Bush after Katrina talked about federalizing the response. I very loudly and publicly said 'no,' that we don't want the Army coming into Mississippi or the Marines coming into Mississippi. They're not trained for that. They don't know the terrain. They don't know the people."

Governor Barbour testified that when it comes to disaster response, it should be individual states and not the federal government making the key decisions. He said that was apparent when Mississippi presented the Coast Guard its strategy for keeping oil away from Mississippi beaches and marshes.

"As it turned out, the Coast Guard approved that plan, but never understood how to execute it. After the second time oil got to barrier islands completely undetected, we demanded that we be put in charge of this and the Coast Guard agreed," said Governor Barbour.

"We worked out a system that worked. Before that there was no command in control. In fact, Unified Command could not even speak to the hundreds of Vessels of Opportunity that we had gotten BP to hire to form pickets lines to spot the oil as far out so we could try to steer it and collect it. "

Governor Barbour said he wants Congress to mandate through an amendment to the Oil Pollution Act that any federal disaster assistance is strictly supplemental and does not undermine state authority.

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