While noting that the draft reports are just that – drafts, written by staff – that have not been signed off on by the Oil Spill Commission members or chairmen, two senior White House officials spoke with ABC News about three of the more provocative charges in the reports, which we reported on earlier today.
1) Of the charge that White House climate change czar Carole Browner misrepresented the oil budget on August 4 – telling, for instance, the Good Morning America audience that “the vast majority of the oil is gone” — they plead guilty, but they say it was an honest confusion and misunderstanding. “Nobody set out to ‘pull the wool over the country’s eyes,’” an official said. “There was a point of confusion.”
Carole was mistaken?
“Carole was mistaken,” the official said, noting that NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco clarified what the oil budget actually meant when she issued a far more detailed statement saying “The vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed much of which is in the process of being degraded. A significant amount of this is the direct result of the robust federal response efforts.”
2) Of the charge that the administration was overly optimistic, which “may have affected the scale and speed with which national resources were brought to bear,” an official points out that the same paragraph also notes that it is “not clear that this misplaced optimism affected any individual response effort.”
“We used the best information and the best modeling we had at that time,” the official said. “The numbers” – estimates of how much oil was spilling into the ocean – “changed as the technology got better.”
3) Of the charge that the White House, specifically the Office of Management and Budget, stifled a request from NOAA at the end of April/beginning of May to alert the public as to the worst-case scenario, officials say that’s because the NOAA modeling was not taking into affect the oil that was being skimmed, burned and collected by Top Hat. OMB was the location for the interagency clearance process, and officials there wanted to make sure the information coming from the administration was as precise as possible, officials say. They point to appearances by Admiral Thad Allen and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on May 2 on CNN in which the two men said a worst-case scenario could be 100,000 barrels or more of oil flowing out per day as evidence that they were not attempting to hide anything.
An official with NOAA says that their estimate at the time was 50,000 barrels a day, so Salazar and Allen were actually more publicly pessimistic than the report OMB sent back for more work.
Moreover, the official says, the report was about flow rates, and suggested the current would bring oil up the coast as far as South Carolina, a projection that also ultimately seems to have proved overly pessimistic.
Bottom line, the NOAA official says, no one was trying to keep worst-case scenarios from the American people.
Bottom line, the officials say: “At no point in time did any of these issues impact how we responded to the spill. It did not affect our operations.”