When the Obama administration announced its moratorium on new off-shore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and Gulf crisis, it packaged the announcement with a series of safety recommendations given to the White House by a panel of experts on deep-sea drilling.  Now that panel has accused the White House of misleading the public by misrepresenting their report as an endorsement of the moratorium.  In fact, they say that the moratorium was the wrong way to go:

Members of a panel of experts brought in to advise the Obama administration on how to address offshore drilling safety after the Deepwater Horizon disaster now say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar falsely implied they supported a six-month drilling moratorium they actually oppose.

Salazar’s May 27 report to President Barack Obama said a panel of seven experts “peer reviewed” his recommendations, which included a six-month moratorium on all ongoing drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. That prohibition took effect a few days later, but the angry panel members and some others who contributed to the Salazar report said they had reviewed only an earlier version of the secretary’s report that suggested a six-month moratorium only on new drilling, and then only in waters deeper than 1,000 feet.

“We broadly agree with the detailed recommendations in the report and compliment the Department of Interior for its efforts,” a joint letter from the panelists to various politicians says. “However, we do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium on floating drilling. A moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors.” …

“A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation’s economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill,” the letter says. “We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do.”

The White House backed down from its initial spin, admitting that the panel didn’t get asked about the moratorium, at least not as implemented by the White House. It’s somewhat mysterious why they would have bothered to do that anyway.  Politically, a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling had at least significant political support.  The panel had a different focus anyway, but the moratorium is less a safety issue than a recognition that the regulators have not been effective in this field at stopping this kind of potential disaster.

Instead of just relying on its own intellectual candlepower for the decision, Barack Obama and Ken Salazar apparently wanted some cover for their decision, and tried pulling a bait-and-switch on their own expert panel.  That certainly isn’t going to instill confidence in the leadership of this administration or its competence, both in the crisis at hand and in general.  Shooting themselves in the foot in their public-relations efforts and antagonizing the people they need to solve the catastrophe is the last thing they or any of us need at the moment.