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Was Obama’s Oil Spill Response ‘Not Fully Competent’ or ‘Not Fully Candid’?

On August 4, Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and Fox News morning shows to declare Mission Accomplished on handling the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Specifically, she told the Today show: I think its also important to note that our scientists have done an initial assessment and more than three-quarters of the oil is gone, the vast majority of the oil is gone. Now it appears that Browner spoke too soon and, even worse, suppressed criticism of the Obama administrations assessment of the spill.

When scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) had the audacity to question the Obama administrations science, the White House pushed back hard. William Hogarth, dean of marine sciences at USF, told the St. Petersburg Times that administration officials pressured him to retract USFs public announcement, and he compared it to being beat up by federal officials. University of Southern Mississippi oceanographer Vernon Asper also drew Obama administration ire: We expected that NOAA would be very pleased. NOAA instead responded by trying to discredit us.

Yesterday, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued four preliminary working papers on the Obama administrations response to the oil spill. Their paper titled The Amount and Fate of the Oil reads:

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.

President Barack Obamas failures of either competence or candidness regarding the size of the oil spill are just the beginning of his administrations botched disaster response. From the beginning there was a complete lack of coordination between local governments, BP, the federal government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, not to mention the refusal to allow expertise and resources from foreign parties until months into the spill. Then there was the overzealous enforcement of labor and environmental regulations that slowed clean up and recovery.

Instead of rolling up his sleeves and fighting the disaster head on, President Obama used the disaster for political gain to push his existing environmental agenda. He used the spill to push his stalled energy tax bill in the Senate and then instituted an all out ban on deep water oil development. Then when a federal judge threw out his original ban because it was arbitrary and capricious, President Obama doubled-down expanding the ban even wider.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that nearly six in ten, or 57 percent, say the country is not better prepared for another disaster. They are right. But there are steps Congress can take to better prepare our nation for future spills. First, federal response efforts must be synchronized. Responses to Spills of National Significance should be managed under the National Response Framework. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 should be amended to make oil spill responses consistent with the Robert T. Stafford Acts intergovernmental approach. Second, bolster the resources of the U.S. Coast Guardincluding the National Strike Team assets that respond to spills, the services ship and aviation fleet, and the size and training of the Coast Guard reserve, which were tasked to support operations. Finally, we must reform our oil spill liability framework so that all parties are properly incentivized to minimize the possibility and danger of future incidents.

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