Initial glimpses of a new report from an Inspector General on the administration’s response to the Gulf spill focused on the failure to take it seriously in the opening days of the crisis. Today, McClatchy escalates the pressure by reporting claims that the Obama White House silenced government scientists that had far worse estimates of the potential spill. That decision apparently came at “a high level”:
Government scientists wanted to tell Americans early on how bad the BP oil spill could get, but the White House denied their request to make the worst-case models public, a report by the staff of the national panel investigating the spill said Wednesday. …
The first report said that the “decision to withhold worst-case discharge figures” may have been made at a high level. It said that in late April or early May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “wanted to make public some of its long-term, worst-case discharge models for the Deepwater Horizon spill, and requested approval to do so from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Staff was told that the Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA’s request.” …
The report noted that retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s top official on the disaster, and other officials said in news conferences that the government prepared for a worst-case scenario from the beginning, and didn’t base decisions about what equipment would be needed on the early estimates of 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day.
However, it said, the government withheld the figures of what “worst-case” meant.
The spill figures in the early days of the crisis gave some cover for the White House to focus on other issues. During the period from late April, when the crisis began, to late May, when Obama began focusing on the crisis, the President spent much more time talking about the Arizona immigration-enforcement law than the Gulf spill. That strategy intended on driving a wedge between supporters of the bill and Hispanic voters in advance of an already tough-looking midterm election. By silencing the worst-case scenarios, the White House would have been able to continue that strategy and keep Obama’s attack on Arizona at the top of the headlines.
It also served another purpose. As we saw, the task of capping the well turned out to be incredibly complicated, a task for which the US and BP turned out to be ill-prepared. More focus on the crisis might have sped resources to the site, which the White House for some reason neglected to do, especially with skimmers that were available but not called to the site until weeks later. However, it also would have highlighted the lack of preparation and coordination much earlier in the crisis and kept the spotlight on the shortcomings for much longer.
The report shows that from April 23rd onward, the administration operated with the knowledge that the spill could be spewing oil at a rate of 64,000 to 110,000 barrels a day, and yet for weeks hinted at only 1,000 or 5,000 as a top number. Whatever the reasons, the point is made clear that the White House wasn’t terribly honest about the crisis and its response. Married up to the earlier Rolling Stone exposé on the Gulf crisis and its response, it paints a damning picture of an administration far out of its depth and desperate to cover up that fact.