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February 17th, 2011
Grijalva Praises House Science Committee’s Continuance of His Investigation Into Federal Handling of 2010 Gulf Oil Spill Response

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today praised a House panel for taking up his ongoing investigation of the federal response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, headed by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), sent letters Feb. 14 to recently departed White House climate advisor Carol Browner and other federal officials asking questions and citing references closely mirroring Grijalva’s Jan. 25 letter (article via Huffington Post) to President Obama on federal cleanup projects and spill impact research.

According to E & E News (subscription required), Broun asks for White House clarification on a number of points Grijalva raised in his January letter, including why Browner claimed an Aug. 4 federal report on the spill was peer reviewed when she later said it was not; why EPA calls to combine figures for naturally and chemically dispersed oil in the report were ignored; why internal e-mails point to White House “pushback” against using ranges of potential spill sizes in scientific documents, which experts deemed more scientifically defensible than precise figures; and why no EPA officials are listed as authors on the report, despite internal communications showing them playing a central role in preparation.

In his letter, Grijalva – the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands – cited internal agency e-mails that showed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had received, in its own words, “strong pushback” from the White House on how to express the size of the oil spill. He wrote: “Gaining public trust is necessary in disaster response, and the preparation of the Oil Budget report suggests the White House chose to shortcut that process. For instance, an early draft of the report apparently sent to the White House for review found that the size of the spill should be expressed as a range of between three and five million barrels of oil. Days later, a NOAA official wrote, ‘We have received strong pushback from WH on the cumulative total used in our graphic being more than the official 4.93 M bbls.’ A subsequent draft of the report substituted a precise figure of 4.9 million barrels for the previously recommended ranges. This substitution suggests that White House ‘pushback’ subjugated expert opinion to political expediency.”

Broun’s letters closely mirror Grijalva’s message: “Another area where White House messaging trumped scientific advance is demonstrated in an e-mail message a NOAA official wrote stating, ‘We have received strong pushback from WH on the cumulative total used in our graphic being more than the official 4.93 M bbls.’ An earlier draft of the oil budget report listed the oil budget as a range from 3 to 5 million barrels; but the final draft released to the public listed the oil budget as a very specific 4.9 million barrels. Evidently the ‘pushback’ from the White House was successful.”

Broun’s letter includes an attachment with the e-mail Grijalva cited and later asks White House officials for copies of that and other documents on which Grijalva based his Jan. 25 letter.

“After my own request for documents turned up a number of redactions and raised more questions than it answered, I’m glad to see my colleagues continue to ask how federal agencies prepared the report on which the public based its understanding of a landmark environmental tragedy,” Grijalva said. “These questions are not going away, and I hope this request will clear the matter up quickly.”

Broun’s letters challenge the White House’s temporary moratorium on deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which Grijalva supported. That moratorium ended Oct. 12, 2010.

“We can disagree on particular policies even as we both pursue greater transparency and effective federal communication with the public,” Grijalva said. “I believe the moratorium gave the country a needed moment to step back and assess our safety and environmental procedures. That shouldn’t stand in the way of Rep. Broun pursuing the issues I raised in January, and I sincerely hope his Subcommittee continues to investigate these issues, as I will, with all due diligence.”

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