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Tag Archives: gulf oil spill

Obama Skips Tornado Destruction, Heads West to Raise Money

President Obama is opting not to visit the tornado-ravaged areas of the South, choosing instead to embark today on a three day tour out West where he will try to boost his political standing by talking up his approach to the deficit and raise millions for himself and fellow Democrats.

The tornadoes, part of a storm that rampaged though six states Saturday, resulted in one of the worst disasters of any kind in the United States since the Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Scores were left injured or homeless while 45 people were killed – about four times as many as died in the Gulf oil rig explosion and the subsequent oil spill last year. In North Carolina alone, there were nearly two-dozen storm-related deaths Saturday, with 130 homes destroyed and an estimated 700 more damaged.

Obama presents the Commander-in-Chief Trophy to the Air Force Academy football team in the Rose Garden Monday. He made no mention of the tornadoes.
photo by Keith Koffler

Not only is Obama staying away from the region, he has said almost nothing publicly about the tragedy beyond an interview with a North Carolina TV station and a very brief mention at a White House prayer breakfast. The president has failed to make the kind of national, attention-getting public statement presidents offer during crises to comfort victims by expressing the condolences of the nation and to seek charitable aid.

Sunday, he went golfing. On Monday, he did sign a disaster declaration for North Carolina, which will free up federal assistance to the state.

Vice President Biden has also failed to show up. He’s cooling his heels today at home in Wilmington, Delaware. The disaster did not even merit a visit from Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar who – without any apparent irony – was in Boston Tuesday announcing a new wind energy project.

Meanwhile, the South is bracing for more, as forecasters say severe storms and tornadoes could hit the region again today.

Obama’s failure to publicly attend to the fallout from the tornadoes comes on the one-year anniversary of the rig explosion that caused the Gulf oil spill. Obama was roundly criticized then for failing to respond sufficiently to the crisis.

The president’s silence and absence during the current crisis is particularly odd given his political stakes in North Carolina, which barely went for Obama over McCain in 2008. Obama is so desperate to hold the state that he’s chosen to hold the 2012 Democratic convention there, in Charlotte.

Obama’s first stop out West will be in San Francisco today, where he will stage two fundraisers and host a “town hall” style meeting at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto focusing on his solution for the federal deficit. On Thursday, he’ll hopscotch over to Reno, Nevada – also a key presidential battleground state – for another deficit town hall, and then head back to California to rake in more money.

While the fundraisers are obviously political events, Obama’s public sales job for his deficit plan also has a major political component, given the widespread public concern about the economy is behind his perilously low poll ratings.

The White House Oil Spill Scandal

The preliminary report by the Obama-appointed commission looking into the Gulf oil spill shows not just government incompetence, but possible deception. It is a scandal that should be investigated. Not only does the report say that the government was too slow to react to the spill initially and then might have based its response on political considerations, but it states that senior officials – primarily White House environment czarina Carol Browner – misinformed the public about the cleanup.

By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.

Here are the questions that need some answering.

1. Why were the government’s initial estimates of the size of the leak so far off?

How come the government lacked the proper tools to understand what was going on? From the report.

From the outset, estimates from non-governmental sources were significantly higher than  official government estimates.  In at least some instances, the cause of the discrepancy appears to be that non-government scientists relied on more refined or better-established methodologies.

2. Did the government base its response on worst case estimates of the amount of oil leaking instead of the vastly-too-low estimates it was promulgating to the public at the time? The report suggests it may have, but the commission is continuing to investigate.

3. Why did OMB reject a request by NOAA to release the worst case scenario estimates?

The White House, in trying to explain this, is enmeshing the issue within the broader report that NOAA wanted to release, saying the overall report was not about “flow rates” but instead about the potential shoreline impact of the oil spill. The report failed to talk about steps to mitigate the damage, so OMB rejected its release. But this does not explain why worst case estimates could not have been released independently.

The commission report makes clear that this would have been valuable.

Putting aside the question of whether the public had a right to know the worst-case discharge figures, disclosure of those estimates, andexplanation of their role in guiding the government effort, may have improved public confidence in the response.  Instead, government officials attempted to assure the public that they were not basing operations on the official flow-rate estimates, while not stating what they were basing operations on instead.  That lack of information may have contributed to public skepticism about whether the government appreciated the size of the Deepwater Horizon spill and was truly bringing all of its resources to bear.  Moreover, the national response may have benefited early on from a greater sense of urgency, which public discussion of worst-case discharge figures may have generated.

4. Why did Carol Browner misrepresent the nation on August 4 about the success in dispersing the oil?

Did she just get it wrong, or was this intentional? Was she attempting to mitigate the worst crisis of the Obama administration by mischaracterizing the “budget” describing what happened to the oil?

This is the biggest problem for the administration, and one journalists should be diving headfirst into probing. If this was a Bush administration appointee, there would be calls for her resignation and conspiracy theories about why she lied, and what the president knew about it.

Let’s look at the White House explanation, by way of an exchange at the daily briefing between ABC’s Jake Tapper and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

TAPPER:  But this is more about communication, about communicating an overly optimistic — whether it was a misunderstanding or not, an overly optimistic prognosis of what was going on in the water.  And the White House has acknowledged that Carol Browner misunderstood, misspoke, what have you.  And I’m wondering if not only does the White House regret that she did that, but that the White House didn’t make more of a point, because there were headlines the next day — 75 percent of the oil gone — to make it clear that she had misspoke.

MR. GIBBS:  Jake, I think we were — I will go back and read it.  I think we were abundantly clear in the briefing that was done in here on the 4th of August exactly what the oil budget represented.  It represented the fact that there was very good news, that oil had biodegraded, that oil had been skimmed, that oil had been burned, that the very worst-case scenarios that many people thought we would be dealing with never came to fruition, largely because of that federal response.

Again, I’m happy to look through the briefing.  Look, I think it is fair to say that Carol probably did hundreds of hours of interviews and may have misspoke once, which is a pretty darn good track record and one that we made sure was accurate certainly just a few hours later.

TAPPER:  But should you have been more precise? Carol Browner gave information that was not — I forget the word that Jonathan used earlier, but not as nuanced as it should have been?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I would point you to the briefing.  I think the briefing on the 4th was rather clear.

Well, first of all, Mrs. Browner did not during the briefing specifically correct her earlier, incorrect statement that 75 percent of the oil was “gone.” Instead, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, also at the briefing, offered the more conservative estimate that “at least 50 percent” of the oil is “gone from the system.”

But even this was misleading, according to the commission report, which indicates a portion of the “gone” oil she refers to”disprersed” and “dissoleved” oil that  “was potentially being biodegraded, but was not ‘gone.'”

But both Lubchenco and Browner went on to incorrectly present the “budget” as a scientific conclusion that had been peer reviewed. Browner was emphatic:

MS. BROWNER:  Can I just add another point?  This has all been — as Dr. Lubchenco said — been subjected to a scientific protocol, which means you peer review, peer review and peer review.

Only problem was, as the commission study makes clear, the budget was not peer reviewed.

The criticism that the Oil Budget was not a peer-reviewed scientific report was accurate. Even the independent scientists that were described as peer reviewers were critical of the report and the way it was presented.


The Oil Budget was simply not designed to explain, or capable of explaining, the “fate of the oil.”  Its purpose was to tell responders how much oil was present for clean-up operations, not to tell the public how much oil was still in Gulf waters. Thus, it did not attempt to quantify biodegradation, or the exact amounts of remaining, dissolved, and dispersed oil, which were not the targets of response actions.

There wasn’t just a one simple mistatement, as Gibbs suggest. There were a series of inaccuracies, that either point to incompetence or a willful effort to mislead.