FEMA Yet to Be Deployed to Gulf Region as Oil Washes Ashore, Florida Declares Emergency

By Christopher Neefus | April 30, 2010 | 5:27 PM EDT

Workers load a boat with oil booms in Bay St. Louis, Miss., as they continue preparations to head off damage from an impending oil spill along the Gulf coast Friday, April 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

(CNSNews.com) – While other agencies flood into Florida and Louisiana, the federal government’s emergency management entity has yet to take the lead on the Gulf Coast, where the oil that is leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day has begun washing ashore.
The Coast Guard is in action, the Louisiana National Guard has been mobilized. The Pentagon has sent Air Force planes to the region to dump chemicals on the oil. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson is on site, along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; 
Even Attorney General Eric Holder has dispatched a team of lawyers to New Orleans to coordinate with a U.S. attorney to protect the “people who work and reside near the Gulf, the wildlife, the environment and the American taxpayers,” Holder said in a statement.
But despite the fact that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has declared a state of emergency for the Florida panhandle on Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not yet taken a lead role in managing a situation that some say could do more damage than the famous Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.
One FEMA employee who asked not to be identified, described the agency’s position as a “support role” and provided a fact sheet that explains when and how FEMA is deployed to a crisis. (http://www.fema.gov/pdf/media/factsheets/2009/dad_disaster_declaration.pdf)

The president of the United States can make two types of declarations that would open the way for FEMA to supplement state efforts. The first, a normal Emergency Declaration, allows up to $5 million to be used to aid the state or states in which the emergency occurs “to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.”
The second, a Major Declaration, is used for an emergency “that the President believes has caused damage of such severity that it is beyond the combined capabilities of state and local government to respond.” 
The president has not yet made such a declaration, but a state governor can ask for one by contacting a FEMA regional office. Governor Crist has yet to request that either.
However, also speaking on background, a spokesperson for Crist said his county-by-county emergency declaration “sort of puts the feds on standby.”
On Friday, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke requesting that his department declare a commercial fisheries failure in Louisiana. Jindal also asked the Small Business Administration to activate a federal disaster declaration in order to help the small businesses affected by the oil spill.