The spill — and the lack of transparency surrounding it — have led to more questions than answers.

Why did Deepwater Horizon’s fail-safe fail? (Still trying to find out.)

Will the Florida legislature ever hold a special session on oil drilling?

Is it safe to swim?

How much has been invested in developing oil spill cleanup technology? (Not much.)

Is the Jones Act inhibiting cleanup efforts? (More after the jump.)

More questions, and some answers, can be found here, here and here.

Still Jonesin’
An article last week in The Florida Independent called attention to the 90-year-old Merchant Marine Act, also known as the Jones Act, which is thought to  be obstructing foreign vessels looking to assist with the oil spill.

Other outlets also reported on the act, which continues to be a source of confusion, as illustrated by the correction appended to this article in The New York Times:

An earlier version of this article misstated the impact of the Jones Act, a 90-year-old law requiring that ships operating between American ports be American owned and built and have American crews, on the use of advanced cleanup technology in the gulf. The United States Coast Guard said last week it would issue waivers if needed to allow more foreign-made skimmers to be used in the gulf, but so far, with 15 foreign vessels working on the spill, no waivers have had to be issued.

In that statement, Thad Allen says that the act has not inhibited the spill response. “Should any waivers be needed, we are prepared to process them as quickly as possible,” he adds.

Paul Flemming argues that the fuss about the act has been orchestrated largely by “officials with R’s after their names,” who have long opposed the act, which they see as a protectionist measure. That doesn’t mean other bureaucratic hurdles haven’t stymied cleanup efforts.

There is, without a doubt, a shortage of appropriate skimmers, and that’s an outright failure of effort, response and preparation. Blame Obama for that, if you wish, but get off it with the Jones Act business.

Florida says there are more than 6,210 response vessels available. The figure represents what’s at work throughout the Gulf and includes only 430 skimmers, Gulf-wide. In Florida, there were 25 skimmers at work on Wednesday. Twenty of those were provided by BP through the unified command. Five of them were leased by the state and are assigned to the passes of the Panhandle’s major bays from Perdido to Apalachicola.

That’s not enough.

It’s not the fault of the Jones Act.

One Washington lawyer with an R next to his name points out that the language of the act provides a specific exemption for “oil spill response vessels” in this helpful Q&A from Tribune. He adds: “This is being used for political purposes. It’s a classic red herring.”

Still, the Washington Post has condemned the act in an editorial and John McCain is attempting to repeal it.

For McCain, repeal of the Jones Act is not a new goal.

“The philosophy that we need to protect our industries troubles me,” he said at one 1998 Senate hearing. Also opposed are farm interests, who believe that it raises their shipping costs.

To [Offshore Marine Service Association President Ken] Wells, the act’s detractors may now be attempting to use the spill ”as an excuse to achieve something they haven’t been able to achieve before.”

Related: A dispute over which vessels are getting hired to clean up the spill simmers in Alabama.

Good news: More ships should come on the scene soon, as BP revamps its cleanup efforts. (What took so long?)

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