Drilling Moratorium Controversy
Obama report on oil moratorium misleading
Washington…An Obama administration report last summer wrongly implied that independent oil industry experts had reviewed and approved its moratorium on deepwater drilling after the Gulf oil spill, an investigation by the Interior Department‘s Inspector General has found.
The report caps a controversy that began when the May 27 Interior Department report articulating stepped-up safety measures, including a moratorium on deepwater drilling, said that the recommendations “have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.”
Ten days later, the experts publicly distanced themselves from the report, saying they agreed with the technical recommendations but had not reviewed the moratorium. They objected to their names being used “to justify” political decisions. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar apologized to the experts, asserting that his department had made a mistake.
The Inspector General’s report, released Wednesday, was in response to a June request by Republican members of Congress. Investigators found that the experts had never been asked to review the moratorium, and the Interior Department had not intended to suggest they had. Rather, a mistake had occurred as late drafts of the May report shuttled between the Interior Department and the White House. The Inspector General “determined that the White House edit of the original (Interior Department) draft Executive Summary led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed by the experts.”
The Inspector General found that the experts themselves, upon being contacted by Salazar’s office, felt that a mistake had been made.
“There was no intent to mislead the public.,” said Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Salazar. “As the report makes clear, the misunderstanding with the reviewers was resolved with the June 3rd letter and a subsequent conference call with those experts”.
The on-line version of the May 27 report remains unchanged, however, with the suggestion still there that experts had peer-reviewed a moratorium proposal.
The issue of scientific integrity is especially sensitive because, as a candidate, Obama pledged to treat science more respectfully than he said the Bush administration had and would not misrepresent experts’ views to serve his policy goals. Recently, staff reports from the President’s oil spill commission said that over the summer, the White House may have suppressed some scientific information relevant to the spill and that its top environmental adviser, Carol Browner, had said inaccurately that most of the oil from the spill had “gone.”
Poised to take control of the House come January, Republicans characterized the findings as a worrisome sign of the Administration’s indifference to scientific accuracy. In a written statement, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, said, “This glib approach to science and how it informs policy decisions deserves our continued attention in the next Congress.”
Republicans have pledged to vigorously investigate an Administration they view as overreaching. Such probes, through the use of subpoenas, could reexamine whether the White House had made a mistake in its edit or had intentionally re-ordered the text to imply that the experts had reviewed the moratorium proposal.